Imperial College London


Faculty of EngineeringDyson School of Design Engineering

Head of the School of Design Engineering



+44 (0)20 7594 7049p.childs Website CV




Studio 1, 10 Princes Gardens10-12 Prince's GardensSouth Kensington Campus





Publication Type

190 results found

Childs PRN, Holloway M, Julia M, Folding mechanism for a remotely deployable robotic vehicle, International Symposium on Robotics

An innovative design for a folding robotic vehicle is presented that can deploy through small openings into crawl spaces and underfloor voids to survey and carry out operations within them. The mechanism employs a four bar linkage, enabling the axles to be extended away from the chassis and the axle to be deployed in line with the chassis, thus producing an elongated but small cross sectional area. In its low cross-sectional area form the device can be fed in through a small opening and once in position, the axles can be rotated into their functional position and locked in place. To remove the robot the mechanism works in reverse, with the axle is unlocked and rotated in line with the chassis This transformation is a key enabler for deployment and practical applications of this type of robot. The mechanism has been commercially developed and used for both survey and applying treatments in a wide range of building applications, although other uses are possible. This paper describes the practical aspects of the mechanism as an enabler for the transformation of a robot chassis for accessing confined spaces.


Childs PRN, Holloway M, Julia M, A robot for spray applied insulation in underfloor voids, 47th International Symposium on Robotics

This paper focuses on the application of robotics in a new field for applying surface treatments in building voids and thedevelopment of the architecture of the robotic vehicle for use in this application. The nature of the application means thatthe robotic vehicle must be capable of accessing voids through small openings and this has led to a deployable architecturefor the vehicle which can be fed through an opening and then reconfigures its form to enable practical operation. A typicalapplication for the robot is to apply thermal insulation to the underside of wooden or concrete floors in buildings. Theterrain is varied ranging from sand to impacted dusty hard core, can be strewn with builders’ debris such as bricks andtimber, and is interspersed with retainer walls that support the floor above. Within this environment the robot needs to beable to navigate and deploy a spray applied insulation fed by a hose assembly. This paper describes the robot architectureand its development with particular focus on deployable features enabling access to confined spaces, the traction systemused to negotiate diverse surfaces while pulling the umbilical hose assembly, the sensor array and how it is used to controlthe spray patterns. The resulting robots have been commercially developed, and are successfully spraying thermal insulationin a wide range of building applications.


Childs PRN, Julia M, Holloway M, Reinoso Oet al., Autonomous Surveying of Underfloor Voids, 47th International Symposium on Robotics

In this paper, a novel robotic system that solves the problem of autonomous mapping an underfloor void is presented. The approach is based on a 3D laser scanner. A real time navigation system and a new high level planner that selects the next best scanning position controls the motion of the robot. Multiple scans are aligned using ICP and graph optimization techniques. Finally, a point cloud fusion algorithm creates a global model of the environment from the aligned scans. The survey robot has been successfully deployed in a commercial application for scanning underfloor voids before and after the application of thermal insulation. Using this system, the robot was successfully able to autonomously map the controlled test scenario. For some applications the quantity of rubble within the void caused the real time navigation to fail and teleoperation and manual initialization of the ICP algorithm was necessary.


Childs PRN, Michalakoudis I, Harding J, Using functional analysis diagrams for production cost optimization, IEEE-ICAMSE 2016

This paper presents a methodology combining Failure Modeand Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Value Engineering (VE),assisted by a set of hierarchical Functional Analysis Diagram(FAD) models, and its pilot introduction in a UK-basedmanufacturing Small Medium Enterprise (SME). Theproposed methodology suggests the parallel execution of bothprocesses, using a combination of FAD models and the FMEAtabular tool to yield results for both FMEA and VE. Theresulting Risk Priority Number (RPN) is used to identify andprioritize not only the high-risk components requiringimprovements (highest RPN values), but also the potentiallysuperfluous components (lowest RPN values) that could besafely downgraded to reduce unnecessary costs.


Garvey B, Chen L, Shi F, Han J, Childs Pet al., New directions in computational, combinational and structural creativity, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part C: Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, ISSN: 0954-4062

This paper examines how new and creative relationships in data sets, not easily revealed by conventional information retrieval methods and technologies, can be identified using a mix of established and new methods. The authors present how the integration of computerised Morphological Analysis with new computational models, incorporating web crawler, data processing networking and data mining algorithms, can help facilitate the identification of new ideas. Boden’s concept of “Combinational Creativity” indicates a structured process which generates unfamiliar combinations of familiar concepts and constructs allowing creative styles of thought. This structured approach has been constrained by the resultant combinatorial explosion and the dearth of easily accessible computer software and supporting methodologies, to help identify viable new solutions. Feature enhanced computerised morphological analysis (MA), provides a new structural support tool for creativity and innovation. MA systematically structures and examines all the possible relationships in a multidimensional, highly complex, usually non-quantifiable problem space. Computerisation of the process now permits large numbers of configurations (millions) in the problem space to be majorly reduced (typically > 95%), identifying only internally consistent solutions. These solutions are likely to embrace configurations containing something which has not previously been considered, thus increasing the probability of some form of technological or design breakthrough and hence truly creative.


Garvey B, Childs P, DESIGN AS AN UNSTRUCTURED PROBLEM: NEW METHODS TO HELP REDUCE UNCERTAINTY – A PRACTITIONER PERSPECTIVE in Impact of Design Research in Industrial Practice Eds A Chakrabarti and U Lindemann Springer 2016, Impact of Design Research on Industrial Practice


Han J, Shi F, Chen L, Childs Pet al., The Combinator – A computer-based tool for creative idea generation based on a simulation approach, Design Science, ISSN: 2053-4701

Idea generation is significant in design, but coming up with creative ideas is often challenging. This paper presents a computer-based tool, called the Combinator, for assisting designers to produce creative ideas. The tool is developed based on an approach simulating aspects of human cognition in achieving combinational creativity. It can generate combinational prompts in text and image forms through combining unrelated ideas. A case study has been conducted to evaluate the Combinator. The study results indicate that the Combinator, in its current formulation, has assisted the tool users involved in the case study in improving the fluency of idea generation, as well as increasing the originality, usefulness, and flexibility of the ideas generated. The results also indicate that the tool could benefit its users in generating high-novelty and high-quality ideas effectively. The Combinator is considered to be beneficial in expanding the design space, increasing better idea occurrence, improving design space exploration, and enhancing the design success rate.


Lee S, Jiang P, Childs P, Gilroy Ket al., Functional Analysis Diagrams with the representation of movement transitions, ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, IMECE 2013

A study on utilising a graphical interface to representmovement transmission within products has been conducted tosupport a creative conceptual design process that separates theconsideration of functional requirements and motionrequirements. In engineering design, many representations ofproduct structure have been proposed to assist in understandinghow a design is constituted. However, most of theserepresentations demonstrate only functions and are not able todemonstrate design structure. Functional Analysis Diagrams(FAD) provides a solution for this. An FAD shows not onlyfunctions but also physical elements by the network of blocksand arrows and thus it is capable of demonstrating varioustypes of information and the design scheme. This characteristicgives FADs an advantage for designers to combine differenttypes of information including useful and harmful interactionsto gain an overview of the design task. This study focuses onusing circles instead of arrows to represent movement attributesof mechanisms and machine elements in a KinematicFunctional Analysis Diagram (KFAD) and explores methods ofutilising it in mechanical design. A commercial case study ofmedical equipment design conducted with the assistance ofKFADs and a component database, mechanism and machineelements taxonomy (MMET), is described to illustrate theprocess. The design outcome shows that it is feasible to followthe proposed conceptual design process. With the help ofKFADs and the machine elements taxonomy to enableconsideration of movements, diverse considerations and designsolutions are possible.


Michalakoudis I, Aurisicchio M, Childs P, Koutlidis A, Harding Jet al., Empowering manufacturing personnel through functional understanding, Production Planning and Control, ISSN: 0953-7287

A growing interest in organizational knowledge management, along with increasingly widespread adoption of Quality Standards such as ISO 9001, has increasingly led organizations to implement training programs for all employees. Training for the manufacturing workforce, however, remains limited to informal “On-the-Job” training, administered by peer colleagues or supervisors - particularly in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) where economic, educational, cognitive and cultural constraints to training are often deeply embedded. This paper proposes a methodology for training the manufacturing workforce on the functions of products and their constituent parts, and presents a case study conducted in a UK-based manufacturing SME - aiming to verify our two research hypotheses: Functional Analysis Diagrams (FAD) of the company’s products and parts would assist in knowledge assimilation; and, the knowledge assimilation has a positive effect on work quality and productivity levels. This intervention provided training on the purpose of the processes the participants are involved, aiming to empower them in supporting the optimization of these same processes. By using surveys and applying statistical inference on long-term quantitative data, the study confirmed subjective observations of substantial improvements in work quality (scrap reduction of 63%) and increased productivity (setup time reduced by 67%). To our knowledge, we were the first to examine the effect of functional modelling methods for workforce training in a manufacturing setup. Although this paper presents a single case study, the results suggest that the proposed methodology can be a promising solution for the industry.


Sikhwal RK, Childs PRN, Design for Mass Individualisation: Introducing Networked Innovation Approach, The 2017 World Mass Customization & Personalization Conference (MCPC 2017)


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