Professor Oliver Lemon named as new co-academic lead at the National Robotarium



A white man with glasses and short brown hair smiling
Professor Oliver Lemon succeeds outgoing co-academic lead Professor Helen Hastie

The National Robotarium, one of Heriot-Watt's flagship Global Research Institutes, has named Professor Oliver Lemon as its new co-academic lead.

Professor Lemon, whose background is focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), brings many years of experience developing machine learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) models, building knowledge to better understand how robots can interact with humans using conversational speech in visual and spatial use-cases. Current projects being led by Professor Lemon include SPRING, based at the facility’s state-of-the-art HRI labs, which is developing Socially Assistive Robotics to perform multi-person interactions in complex environments, specifically with older patients in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

A former Senior Research Fellow at Stanford University and the University of Edinburgh, and Visiting Scientist at NASA, Professor Lemon has extensive experience working with industry. He has led national and international research projects with partners such as PAL Robotics, SoftBank, France Telecom, and BMW, and is Chief AI Officer and co-founder of the conversational AI company Alana AI. The spinout has recently developed advanced vision-and-language conversational AI solutions for blind and partially-sighted people in partnership with RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and for stroke patients, as part of the European Commission’s RES-Q+ medical AI project.

Professor Lemon has also supervised three student teams in the Amazon Alexa Simbot Challenge, an artificial intelligence competition focused on conversational agents. In the latest challenge, on embodied AI, the team were the only non-US competitors to be shortlisted in the top ten, and made it all the way through to the final stages.

His appointment follows the departure of Professor Helen Hastie, who has held the position – alongside incumbent Professor Yvan Petillot - since 2020, overseeing the research strategy of the world-leading Robotics and Artificial Intelligence centre, based at Heriot-Watt University. Working closely with co-academic leads at the University of Edinburgh, Professors Adam Stokes and Sethu Vijayakumar, these important roles were created to strengthen academic collaboration between the two partner institutions. The ties between organisations will be further strengthened when Professor Hastie takes up a new post as Head of the School of Informatics at The University of Edinburgh.

Professor Lemon said: “I’m delighted to join the National Robotarium as its new co-academic lead and continue its work developing science-led robotics and AI solutions to address people’s needs.

”As a co-founder of Alana AI, I understand how to bridge the gap between science and industry and move academic research from labs to market, a core delivery theme at the National Robotarium. I look forward to playing a strategic role supporting its mission to advance the adoption of robotics and AI to help people at work and at home.  I’m particularly excited to bring the latest advances in Foundation Models and Large Language Models such as ChatGPT into robotics.”

Stewart Miller, Chief Executive Officer at the National Robotarium said: “I’m very pleased to welcome Oliver to the National Robotarium as our new co-academic lead. His extensive experience into language models for robotics, as well as his many years of research into how humans interact with robots, make him a natural successor to Professor Hastie and I’m keen to work with him to develop the next generation of robotics using safe and responsible AI.”


Louise Jack | Research Communications Manager