Reporter 403, 2 June 1997

Science Minister chooses alma mater for first official visit

John Battle, Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry and MP for Leeds West, chose home ground for his first official visit since taking office. He graduated from the University in 1976 with a degree in English and returned to meet the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Wilson, and tour some of the departments covered by his brief of science, technology, industry and energy.

The Minister has been an MP since 1987, having been a member of the Labour Party since 1974. He previously worked as a research officer for Leeds Euro MP Derek Enright, was elected to Leeds City Council in 1980 and was National Co-ordinator of the ecumenical Church Action on Poverty charity. Mr Battle had a strong interest in housing politics and was appointed shadow housing minister in 1992.

John Battle has long been an advocate of the benefits of information technology. He was one of the first MPs to have an email address and his Yorkshire home, London flat, Commons office and Leeds constituency are all linked up. He wants science, engineering and technology to be seen as a major way of generating wealth for Britain, and hopes more young people will see their future in those areas.

He believes everyone in society should be able to gain from developments in IT, and gives the example of a pensioner being able to communicate with the social services through developments in television technology.

In the School of Computer Studies he was introduced to the latest developments in laser robotics in the shape of RESOLV, a European funded project led by the UK company BICC, and involving the University of Leeds, the French robotics company Robosoft, and the EU Joint Research Centre in Italy. The aim of the project is to develop a system for generating three-dimensional computer models of building interiors using a laser to take highly accurate measurements.

The main novelty of the project is in devising an automatic procedure for planning successive positions of the laser device within a building and using the measurements to make a coherent overall model. The construction industry and virtual reality are fields where the robot is likely to be of great interest.

John Battle went on to visit the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering where he was shown research aiming to develop technology that can meet the requirements of increasingly complex communication systems.

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