Dr. Robert Bicker MIMechE, CEng, PhD, MSc, BSc

Senior Lecturer

My workplace coordinates are as follows:


School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering
Stephenson Building (Room M41)

Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne
United Kingdom, NE1 7RU


Tel: 0191 222 6219    Fax: 0191 222 8600

email: robert.bicker@newcastle.ac.uk

Welcome to my web pages. I have include numerous illustrations of the very interesting work that I have undertaken during my years at Newcastle. Please use the following links to navigate the pages:


 Research Interests: My research interests are as follows.






Mobile robots and Industrial robotics



Bilateral force reflecting telerobotic systems



Embedded sensing and measurement systems


Servo-control systems

Multi-axis motion control systems


Condition Monitoring systems

Health monitoring systems for power transmissions and engines


Modelling & Simulation

Kinematics, dynamics and control systems



Mobile Robotics

IWARD (Intelligent Robot Swarm for Attendance, Recognition, Cleaning and Delivery) – The project aim is to develop a ‘swarm’ of mobile robots for use in the Healthcare sector. IWARD is funded through the EU. The project has received considerable publicity in recent weeks, and the press have conjured up names like Nursebot, Robonurse and ‘mechanized angels’ as is their wont, whilst envisioning swarms of robots replacing nurses by the year 2010. The reality is that our aim is to develop a ‘swarm’ of 3 prototype robots by 2010, which we hope will be capable of undertaking some basic tasks such as cleaning, transporting blood and tissue samples to laboratories, etc., with trials being carried out in a simulated hospital environment. We certainly do not anticipate they will ever be able to replace the valuable role of nursing staff! The team at Newcastle are keen to get this work moving forward, and they include my colleague John Hedley (MSE), and Ron Jamieson and Ben Towell (RCID). Further details of the project and our European partners can be obtained at the project web site (IWARD). See caption below of the concept IWARD robot.

INTELICOPTER (INTELligent helICOPTER) The aim of this project is to develop a fully autonomous aerial robot. The robot platform is based on a Hiroba R60 model helicopter. See caption below.


The picture to the right illustrates the concept design we have put forward for the prototype IWARD mobile robot. (This concept design was developed by Ben Towell).

The picture to the left illustrates the magnetic coil mounted on the end-effector of one of our old Puma 560 robots. Work is presently underway to re-engineer the control system of the robot to facilitate higher bandwidth communication for integration with a range of real-time sensing, including force and tracking.

The Hiroba R60 model helicopter is being developed as an autonomous aerial vehicle. The ‘Intelicopter’ system will comprise an on-board PC104 control processor, inertial measurement unit, altimeter, compass and differential GPS.

(David Butler)


The mobile robot to the right is called Charlie2, and is named after my late colleague Dr. Charles Allen, formerly of the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering

TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) – This work is being undertaken in collaboration with Stuart Baker of the Institute of Neuroscience. Our aim is to develop a robotic system for use in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The aim of the project is to develop a robot which is simultaneously force and position controlled using a wrist mounted force sensor and optical tracking system to maintain the coil in position against the head of an unrestrained subject. The system, we hope, will be a valuable tool in helping patients who suffer from neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Systems Atrophy. EPSRC funding was sought to kick-start this work. Whilst the Neuroscientists who reviewed the proposal were fully supportive, the other reviewer (an Engineer!) dismissed the work as not being inventive enough Not surprisingly, the work did not get supported. Nevertheless, Stuart and I are still pressing on regardless, and whilst our intention was to use a modern Staubli robot, we are now obliged to spend time re-engineering one of our old Puma robots (see caption above, demonstrating proof of concept).



Telerobotics  - I also have very specific research interests in the field of robotics and telerobotics and have published a number of papers and technical reports on these subjects. Much of the work undertaken on the development of telerobotic systems has been directly related to the needs of the nuclear industry, and is directed towards improving operator performance and enhancing the capability of semi-autonomous and autonomous remote handling systems. My current research in robotics research has focused on the issue of maintaining stable force control in contacting tasks in which the environment stiffness is unknown or varying - this includes tasks such as deburring and polishing. Intelligent force control schemes have been successfully developed based on fuzzy logic and neural networks, in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Burn of Sunderland University. The technique has been successfully applied to both single and multi-axis systems including hybrid position/force control of a Puma760.

The Newcastle Telerobotic System which was originally developed through the EU TELEMAN programme has recently been updated. A neuro-fuzzy force reflecting controller has been implemented running under QNX by Watcharin Po-Ngean. To improve the system bandwidth the real-time axis control of the slave Puma 760, which was modified to run under the ESLAVE Ethernet protocol has been replaced by a dedicated PMAC II multi-axis controller – a Galil DMC2280 motion controller was evaluated but the Contour Mode performance was considered inadequate for this application. See captions below:

Force reflecting master

(Puma 260)

Newcastle telerobotic facility

INGRID telerobotic demonstrator

Force controlled Sabre saw

Force controlled peg-in-hole task

Deburring using fuzzy force control

And here’s some earlier work we did on Telerobotics

Me and my PhD rig (1985)

Rate joystick with Puma 560 (1987)

Rate joystick (Kevin Burn)

Our Master Slave Manipulator


One degree of freedom MSM

(Po-ngaen, 2006)

3D Kinaesthetic Virtual Reality System (Bashir 2005)





Servo Position Systems - I have extensive experience in the design and implementation of microprocessor controlled position servo-systems. Over the years I have developed multi-axis servo-position control systems for a large number of applications, including re-engineering several robot controllers; large gantry manipulators; CNC gear-hobbing and co-ordinate measuring machines; along with numerous smaller devices. Many of these applications have been adopted the PMAC (I and II) motion controller from Delta-Tau. I also have experience with several other multi-axis controllers have included Galil, ServoToGo and Creonics.

I have also been involved in developing several other CNC machines and robot systems here at Newcastle, a selection of which are illustrated below.

CNC Gear measuring machine

Re-engineered Dainichi Robot (Tourlos 2005)

Double pendulum golf robot

CNC Gear hobbing machine (Abood 2003)






 Mechatronics - Over the last twenty years I have applied real-time digital control and data acquisition to a wide variety of applications including testing and measuring equipment. My expertise in engineering design coupled with in-depth knowledge of real-time computing, sensors and actuators (i.e. Mechatronics), has allowed me the privilege of getting involved in developing test equipment for use in both the dental and medical fields. During this last two years I have developed several prototype mechatronic devices for testing the wear properties of materials used in dental restoration in collaboration with Professor John McCabe (School of Dentistry, University of Newcastle), and also for evaluating the flexibility of colonscopes (Professor Duncan Bell, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Norwich Health Authority, and Dr. K. Burn).


Evaluation of transverse stiffness of colonscopes

Koken Bowel Model Trainer

Dental material rolling ball rig







Condition Monitoring and Engine Development – The Design Unit here at the University of Newcastle are renowned for their expertise in design, manufacture, testing and measurement of gears and mechanical power transmissions. In keeping with my interests in sensing systems and data acquisition we are developing intelligent health monitoring systems for use in testing and in-service power transmission systems (Onsy). Related work includes the design of similar health monitoring systems for use on diesel engines (Mahmoud), and improved engine management systems using torque control (Clugston)

Simulation & Modelling - I have in the past been actively involved in the modelling and control of flexible structures, using both H-infinity techniques and Modal Filters. Many of the early simulation models were developed using CSMP, then ACSL, although in recent years I have concentrated on using MATLAB. This work has recently taken on a new direction in developing strategies based on fuzzy logic and adaptive neural networks to the control of flexible manipulators, ic engines and power transmission condition monitoring systems.


 Selection of Recent Publications:



Journal papers:

·         Zhongxu Hu, Bicker R, Marshall C and Taylor P M. Computer vision for shoe upper profile measurement via upper and sole conformal matching. Optics and Lasers in Engineering 2007, 45(1), 183-190.

·         J. Haigh, D.A. Hofmann and R. Bicker. Validation of a software tool for optimizing the design of low noise, high strength gears. Proc. IMechE, Part G, Journal of Aerospace Engineering 2007, 221(1), 73-84

·         Zhongxu Hu, Bicker R, and Marshall C. Prediction of depth removal in leather surface grit blasting using neural networks and Box-Behnken design of experiments. Int Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology 2006.

·         Burn K, Home G, Short M and Bicker R. A software tool for automating the design of robot fuzzy force controllers. Robotica 2005, 23(2), 247-256.

·         Hu Zhongxu, Zhong Li, Bicker R and Marshall C. Robust Output Tracking Control of Nonholonomic Mobile Robots Via Higher Order Sliding Mode. Journal of Non-Linear Studies 2004, 11(1), 23-35.

·         Fujii K, Carrick TE, Bicker R and McCabe JF. Effect of applied load on surface contact fatigue of dental filling materials. Dental Materials 2004, 20, 931-938.

·         Frazer RC, Bicker R, Cox B, Harary H, Härtig F, 'An International Comparison of Involute Gear Profile Measurement', Metrologia, Vol 41, No. 1, pp12-16, February 2004.

·         Hu Zhongxu, Bicker R and Marshall C. Position/Force control of manipulator based force measurement and its application to gear deburring. Journal of Intelligent and Fuzzy Systems 2003, 14(4), 215-223

·         Burn K, Bicker R & Bell D, 'A novel instrument for the measurement and analysis of endoscopes used in colonoscopy', Int. Journal of COMADEM, Vol 4, No 6, pp24-32, October 2003.

·         Burn K, Short M and Bicker R, 'Adaptive and non-linear fuzzy force control applied to robots operating in uncertain environments', Journal of Robotic Systems, Vol. 20, No. 7, pp391-400, July 2003.

·         Hancock J, Bell GD, Dogramadzi S, Burn K, Bicker R and Allen CR, 'Effect of temperature on the relative stiffness (flexural rigidity) of Celestin and Savory-Gilliard Oesophageal dilators', submitted to International Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, (GUT), January 2003.

·         Taylor PM, Bicker R, Abbott PJ, Pollet DM, 'Parameters affecting low-force frictional characteristics of fabrics in automated handling systems ', Transactions of the Institute of Measurement & Control, Vol24,1 (2001), pp15-31.

·         Bicker R, Taylor PMT, Reedman DC & Brady S, ’An investigation into a rolling process for the attachment of resin rubber soles to shoes’, Transactions of the Institute of Measurement & Control, Vol23 (2001), pp301-313.

·         Burn K & Bicker R, 'Design of a non-linear force controller using fuzzy logic techniques: Proc Inst Mech Engrs. Vol 214, Part 1, pp197-206, 2000.

·         Yoneyama Y, McCabe J.F, Hosoi T & Bicker R, 'An impacting ball test for Denture Soft Lining Materials', Journal of Dental Research, Vol 79, Special Issue 2000.


·        Bell GD, Butler J, Dogramadzi S, Hancock J, Nylander D, Painter J, Burn K & Bicker R, 'The in-vitro assessment of a novel continent and disposable corrugated sigmoid stiffening-overtube for colonoscopy', International Journal of Gostroenterology & Hepatology, GUT, Vol 50, Supplement II, No 372, April 02.

·        Burn K, Bicker R, Bell GD, Dogramdzi S, Allen CR, 'A New Method for Rapidly Measuring the Flexural Rigidity of Endoscopes', International Journal of Gostroenterology & Hepatology, GUT, Vol 50, Supplement II, No 358, April 2002.

·        Dogramadzi S, Burn K, Bicker R, Bell GD, 'The effect of temperature on the flexural rigidity of various commercially available colonoscopes and gastroscopes', International Journal of Gostroenterology & Hepatology, GUT, Vol 50, Supplement II, No 146, April 2002.

·        Hancock J, Dogramadzi S, Bell GD, Allen CR, Burn K, Fletcher I, & Bicker R, 'Use pressure sensitive gloves to determine the mechanical work done during either OGD or colonoscopy: A pilot study in 10 patients', Int Journal of Gostroenterology & Hepatology, GUT, Vol 50, Supplement II, No 385, April 2002.


Refereed Conference Publications:

·         Bicker R, Burn K, Pongaen W, Zhongxu Hu, ‘Historical development of remote-teleoperation’. Accepted for publication in IFToMM 2nd Int. Conference on History of Machines & Mechanisms, Cassino, May 2004.

·         Abood A, Bicker R, Pennell AJ, ‘Cutting Forces in Gear Hobbing’. Accepted for publication at IFToMM 13th World Congress, Tianjin, April 2004.

·         Pongaen W, Bicker R, Zhongxu Hu, Burn K, ‘Neuro Fuzzy Inference Control of a Single Axis Teleoperator. Accepted for publication in IFToMM 13th World Congress, Tianjin, April 2004.

·         Bicker R & Burn K, ' Robotic Deburring using a fuzzy force controller', pp439-445, Proceedings of 13th CISM-IFToMM Symposium on the Theory & Practice of Robots & Manipulators (ROMANSY'2000), Zakopane, July 2000, ISBN 3-211-83333-1, Springer-Verlag.

·         Burn K, Bicker R, and Cox CS, ' A Neuro-Fuzzy Controller Applied to Robotic Force Control', pp390-393, Proc. of 29th International Symposium on Robotics (ISR'98), 1998, ISBN 0 9524454 7 6, Birmingham.

·         Bicker R & Burn K, 'A Novel approach to Force Control using Neuro-fuzzy techniques' Proc. of the 12th CISM-IFToMM Symposium on the Theory & Practice of Robots & Manipulators (ROMANSY'98), pp137-144, July 1998, Paris, ISBN 3-211-83143-6, Springer-Verlag.

·         Bicker R, Frazer RC and Wehmeyer D, 'Verifying Position Errors in CNC Gear Measuring Instruments using a Laser Interferometer with Dynamic Data Capture', submitted for presentation at Lambdamap 2001.


 PhDs and MPhils - past and present:


Name of Candidate

Title of Thesis



Currently being supervised:                                                                                        Completion date (Anticipated)

Adel Gheblawi

Mechatronic testing of dental materials


Ahmed Onsy

Intelligent gearbox health monitoring


David Butler

Autonomous control of a model helicopter


Osama Mahmoud

Engine condition monitoring using neural networks


Steven Clugston

Intelligent engine control using torque feedback


John Haigh

Design and testing of large marine gears


Jason Ngu

Design of a magneto-rheological fluid tactile array


Stavros Toulos

Force controlled robotic deburring






PhDs Successfully defended:

R.C. Frazer

Measurement uncertainty in gear metrology


C. Marshall

Trajectory control over 3D surfaces


Watcharin Po-ngaen

Intelligent neuro-fuzzy telerobotic force control


S. Rankov

Structural & metric design of a class of finishing robot


Abdouslam M Bashir

Design and evaluation of a virtual/augmented reality system with kineasthetic feedback


P. Abbott

Investigation of textile properties influencing performance of robot grippers


Ali Muzhir Abood

Analysis of cutting forces in gear hobbing process


D. Taslakova

Design of modular robots


Ow Sin Ming

Force control in telerobotics


Orestes Tsakalotos

Dynamics & vibration control of a flexible arm


Kevin Burn

Force control in tele-manipulation


Said Al-Annaz

Active control of flexible structures



MPhil's currently being supervised:

Wenhoe Cai

Intelligent Mobile Vehicle Control

 Completed 2007

Balamurugan Karunamurthy

Design of a 3-axis Ultrasonic Motor

 Completed 2006

Elias Katirtsigianoglou

Integration of Design, FEA and Testing

 Completed 2007

 International Links:


Up until 2004 I was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Federation for the Promotion of Mechanism & Machine Science (IFToMM), and for the last eight years was Honorary Treasurer. I am currently a member of two IFToMM Technical Committees, namely, Robots and Manipulators and Gearing.

For over ten years I have been a Visiting Professor at the Center for Intelligent Machines and Robots (CIMAR) at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, Florida. During these annual visits I have worked on several interesting on-going research projects and have commissioned and maintained several of their robots, including Puma 560 and 760, and Sarcos arms. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided through the International Office at UF, and grateful thanks go to Professor Carl Crane and the late Professor Duffy, for inviting me back time and again!

 Robotics and Automation Laboratory:


Since the early 80's I have purchased and otherwise acquired a large number of industrial robots, and have also designed and developed several special purpose manipulators arms. Several of our robots have been re-engineered to improve their performance and facilitate real-time communications for improved sensor based control. Two photographs showing different views of the laboratory are shown below, along with the robots we currently have.

Views of the Robot Laboratory are shown below. 




Robot Manipulators:

Robot Type

Real-time Interface


Puma 762 Mark 2

Puma 762 Mark 2



Telerobotic slave, and deburring

Contour surface tracking (IRIST)

Puma 560 Mark 2 (x2)


Vision/force Teaching Robots

Puma 560 Mark 1 (x2)


Teaching robot

Puma 260 Mark 2


Telerobotic master




DainichiPT300H  SCARA


Robotic gear deburring

Arm Base SCARA



Unimate Apprentice


Teaching demonstration only (circa 1980)



Teaching demonstration only



3-axis Virtual Reality System



Master Slave Manipulator - Teaching Demonstration only

Real-time Multi-Axis Motion Control

Several of our Puma robots have been modified to facilitate real-time path control. The External-ALTER real-time path control option is a standard protocol adopted by Unimation and is implemented through a standard RS-422 serial interface. External-ALTER uses either incremental or absolute path modification in both world and tool-coordinates. The ESLAVE interface provides a 3.6 ms communication rate, whilst ALTER and SLAVE are restricted to 28ms. SLAVE and ESLAVE are adaptations developed specially by Staubli-Unimation, and are not commercially available. They are essentially joint based protocols and require the external computer to solve both forward and inverse kinematic solutions in real-time. SLAVE uses an RS-422 serial interface whereas ESLAVE is Ethernet based.

I have considerable hands-on experience (over 12 years) with the Delta-Tau PMAC range of motion controllers that provide real-time communication rates better than 1ms using DPRAM. Recent experience with the Galil DMC2800 controller on the other hand has shown that this is restricted to 4ms using the Contour mode. ServoToGo offer a high-performance low-cost solution which has been integrated in VisiTact.

The Advanced Technologies Incorporated (ATI) force/torque sensors are used for studies in real-time force control. The 150/600 series transducers have been retrofitted with an in-house prototype interface that facilitates data transmission in excess of 2kHz. Initially based around a T800 transputer with a parallel processor architecture, now with a PCI interface and PIC processor.

Other equipment available within the laboratory includes several prototype robots developed for such diverse application as tele-manipulation, golf swing analysis and shoe sole processing. Several of the systems are integrated with conveyor systems, CCD cameras and vision systems incorporating structured light lasers.

Some of our industrial robots:

Unimate Puma 761 – Force controlled drilling

Unimate Puma 560 Mark 1

Unimate Apprentice robot


Hirata ARM Base

Unimate Puma 560 Mark 2


Some of our Bespoke Robots and Mechatronic Systems

Automated Shoe – Sole Assembly

IRIST grit-blasting robot

RTX Robots


Improved Roughing Integrated Sensor Technology (IRIST)

IRIST Structured Imaging System




 Teaching Responsibilities:


I am Degree Programme Director for the MSc in Mechatronics (5095) The MSc. programme in Mechatronics has been running since 2001 and in that time over 60 students have graduated. The course is offered jointly with the School of Electrical, Electronic & Computer Engineering. My main undergraduate and postgraduate teaching duties include:



Summary of course content


Mechatronics Design

Introduction to the principles of mechatronic and design


Sensors & Actuators

Measurement systems and sensors. Actuator types and integration



Design of Robot manipulators, kinematics, control and sensor fusion


Design of Mechanical Power Transmissions

Gearbox and power transmission design





 Teaching Company Schemes:


I have been involved in Teaching Company Schemes for many years. The schemes are funded jointly by the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) and a collaborating company. The programmes usually run for two years and help to promote strong interaction between the companies and universities, and also facilitate the recruitment and subsequent development of Engineering Graduates within the collaborating companies. The Teaching Company Associates (TCA's) are employed by the University to work on specific projects of work that add significant value to company product development. The University of Newcastle has recognized the importance of these schemes by setting up a specialist Teaching Company Unit dedicated to the promotion of TCS within the region.

In the past I have been associated with schemes involving Northern Engineering Industries (now part of Rolls-Royce) and Bonas Engineering (2 schemes), both located in Gateshead. More recently I have managed schemes in collaboration with the following companies employing the following TCAs:

Name of Company



Outline of Project

GT Aldona Seals

Peterlee, Durham

Ian Hazlewood

Control of Manufacturing Processes

GT Alpha Processes

Peterlee, Durham

Martin Dodd

Integration of 3D CAD in SME's

Miller Welding

Blaydon, Gateshead

Kevin Brown

3D Design and Solid Modelling in SME's

Miller Welding

Cramlington, Northumberland

Elias Katirtsigianoglou

Field Testing Analysis Facility

Washington Display

Blaydon, Gateshead

Eneko Unceta

Manufacturing Processes

Newcastle Tool & Gauge


Chris Hussey

CAE applied to Jig and Tool Design




  Institution of Mechanical Engineers - Monitored Professional Development Scheme:


I am a Registered Interviewer for the IMechE, and regularly sit on interview panels. I am also actively involved with the professional development of young Graduate Engineers, and am registered as a Mentor for the Institution's Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS).

About Me!


I have been a member of staff at Newcastle University since 1981, completing my PhD, entitled 'Force Control in Telemanipulation' in 1989.

Prior to joining the University I was employed by Northern Engineering Industries [NEI] Nuclear Systems, Gateshead. I had joined NEI in 1977, directly after graduating from Newcastle University with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering. Within four years of taking up this appointment I had been promoted to Group Leader, obtained CEng with the IMechE, was a member of the Welding Institute, and had completed a Diploma in Welding Technology and a MSc in Materials Engineering at Newcastle Polytechnic (now University of Northumbria).

The work of the Welding Systems Development Group at NEI was primarily involved with developing automated welding systems for use in the nuclear industry, and the group comprised 10 Graduate Engineers and Technicians. Whilst at NEI I was directly involved in the following design and development programmes:

  • TIG orbital welding systems for stainless steel pipe in reactor fabrication.
  • TIG internal bore welding systems for steam boilers.
  • Automatic TIG welding sequencers and controllers.
  • Flux cored welding repair procedures for repair of nuclear reactors.
  • Robotic Mig welding systems for manufacture of nuclear boiler components.

Before entering University as an undergraduate I had completed an Apprenticeship at NEI Reyrolle (now part of Rolls-Royce) followed by two years as a Draughtsman. I then went on to spend two years as a Laboratory Technician at Hebburn Technical College, before leaving to take my first degree.


1981-1989       Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, entitled 'Force Feedback in Remote Teleoperation'.

1978-81           MSc. in Materials Engineering, Newcastle Polytechnic (Part-time study);

1974-77           BSc.(Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, University of Newcastle (First Class);

1972-74           Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Technology (with Distinction);

1970-72           City & Guilds Full Tech. Cert. in Research & Development, (with Distinction);

Other Qualifications and Distinctions:

1980                Elected to Corporate Membership of Institution of Mechanical Engineers;

1980                Registered as a Chartered Engineer;

1978                Diploma in Welding Technology, (Newcastle Polytechnic);

1978                Elected to Membership of the Welding Institute;


I continue to lead an active lifestyle that includes playing 5-aside football and golf on a weekly basis, and up until recently squash. I have always had a fascination for finding out how things work, and not surprisingly I am particularly fond of taking things apart - you name it I will probably have fixed it! Anything from watches and clocks, domestic appliances, cars, hi-fi's, robots (of course) and machine tools etc.


Last updated 02 March 07 by Robert Bicker