Informatics student inspired by tragedy begins robot trial

[12/02/2024] Ebtehal Alotaibi, an Artificial Intelligence and Robotics PhD student at the School of Informatics is on a mission to increase trust in autonomous vehicles since losing her aunt in a car accident caused by driver error. As founder of startup Pixconvey, she will trial a system which if successful will allow students at the University of Edinburgh Kings Buildings campus to order takeaway food delivered by robot.

Pixconvey founder Ebtehal Alotaibi with robot Pixie
Pixconvey founder Ebtehal Alotaibi with robot Pixie

Ebtehal lost her aunt in 2014 in a car accident that also claimed the life of her aunt’s husband. Her aunt was just 30 years old, and their three children are left without their parents.

She said:

“It was the fault of another driver, and I can’t accept that someone could pass away because of someone else’s behaviour when driving. I did some research and found that 94 per cent of car accidents are caused by human error, so there is a lot of potential for driverless vehicles to be safer.”

Her custom-built robots, Pixie and Pixa, adapted from the Bayes Centre’s HUSKY model, will deliver orders from the Kings Buildings’ Café in the library to students across campus in a pilot that she hopes could eventually be rolled out across the city. 

She will collaborate with Kings Building's catering service, which will integrate the widely used Upay takeaway app with Alotaibi’s Pixconvey app. When ordering, if the student choses ‘delivery,’ they can specify the location and choose a timeslot. Once the order is ready, the catering staff loads the food into the robot's cargo. 

Using the Pixconvey dashboard, the staff dispatches the robot, which autonomously navigates to the delivery location. Upon arrival, indicated by a dashboard notification, the catering personnel remotely opens the robot's cargo door. The customer retrieves their order and closes the door, and the robot takes itself back to the catering area.

It’s great to see another of our student entrepreneurs showing their ingenuity and initiative to develop new technologies. We are delighted to be able to support Ebtehal in her innovation journey.” - Dr John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations.

Dr John Lonsdale
Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations

Alotaibi’s PhD supervisor at the School of Informatics is Dr Michael Herrmann.

This project also provides a test bed for students and researchers to explore machine learning in multi-agent systems. This important research area includes the direct cooperation of humans and robots which will be an important feature of our future work environment.

Dr Michael Herrmann
Lectureship in Robotics, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Although the Pixconvey robot can navigate roads, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings once it has mapped the terrain, current UK road regulations do not allow for autonomous vehicles without following specific protocols. A successful campus trial would pave the way for a road trial. 

Related links

Link to Ebtehal Alotaibi‘s personal page

Link to Edinburgh Innovations announcement