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William meets robots as he opens Oxford University technology centre

William was given a demonstration of virtual reality technology at Keble College’s new graduate building.

The Duke of Cambridge watches a virtual reality demonstration for a mental health programme at Oxford University (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)
The Duke of Cambridge watches a virtual reality demonstration for a mental health programme at Oxford University (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

By Matthew Cooper, PA

The Duke of Cambridge has officially opened a £63 million graduate centre at Oxford University while being gently teased about his connections to “another university”.

Oxford vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson used to work at the University of St Andrews, where William studied, and suggested to him that while he might think highly of the Scottish institution, Oxford had been ranked as the best university in the world for four years running.

During an hour-long visit to Keble on Thursday, William was shown three cutting-edge robots and given a demonstration of virtual reality technology at the college’s new graduate building, the H B Allen Centre.

As well as meeting graduates, academics and staff from start-up companies that work out of the new building, the duke also chatted with those involved in construction work, which began in 2016.

Among the robots viewed by William at the centre’s Oxford Robotics Institute workspace was a robot called Betty and a mobile device which picked up a potted plant.

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The Duke of Cambridge interacts with Bambam, a robot designed to understand the environment and pick up objects (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

Associate professor Nick Hawes told the royal visitor that similar robots could be used to perform tasks from assessing contamination during nuclear decommissioning to stocktaking in supermarkets.

William then asked, to giggles from onlookers: “You’ve seen Terminator haven’t you?”

Speaking at a ceremony to officially open the new building, Keble College’s warden Sir Jonathan Phillips thanked the project’s many benefactors and told guests: “Notwithstanding the many wonderful buildings which many people in this room will know were added to the college during the past fifty years, there’s actually nothing to compare with this new quad.

“It’s therefore a wonderfully fitting way to begin the celebration of our 150th anniversary that we are opening these buildings today.

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The Duke of Cambridge is introduced to Betty, a mobile service robot (Daniel Leal-Olivas

“The H B Allen Centre will be transformational for Keble, most obviously in providing a dedicated home for our graduate student population – and in providing the headquarters for Oxford Sciences Innovation, and the base for the Oxford Robotics Institute.”

After William unveiled a commemorative plaque, Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Richardson said the occasion was a big day for Keble and the university.

She said: “This university, notwithstanding all the changes over the past several hundred years, has always been about teaching, research and improving the world around us.

“That fundamental vision – with those three goals – is amply represented in this wonderful new building, allowing us to house 230 new graduate students.”

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The Duke of Cambridge interacts with Bambam, a robot designed to understand the environment (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

As William listened while sitting on a raised platform, Prof Richardson, who took up her post at Oxford in 2016 after serving as Principal and Vice-Chancellor at St Andrews for seven years, said of William: “He attended another university and I have personally heard him describe that other university as far and away the best university in the world.”

To laughter and then applause from the audience, the vice-chancellor continued: “I used to think so too but now I know – because I have been told by the Times Higher Ed global rankings for the fourth consecutive year – that we in fact are far and away the best university in the world.”

After Professor Richardson thanked William for officially opening the building, the duke pointed at the word Cambridge on the plaque behind him and joked: “I hope this is not a contentious word here.”

PA

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