Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Design Manufacture and Engineering Man


This proposal seeks to investigate the thesis that large numbers of industrial optimisation tasks can be outsourced to rural workers to provide a sustainable source of skilled employment. The project consortium brings together a team of collaborators with the interdisciplinary expertise required to investigate the social, business and technological issues inherent in the vision of "human intelligence" being subcontracted to rural workers from urban manufacturing industry. The goal of the three year program will be to deliver a 'business model' (supported by the performance and economic evidence from a series of trials) that can deliver long term benefits to rural populations. The challenges of delivering this objective range from the social and training issues associated with low literacy rates to the establishment of the performance metrics and pricing models required by the industrial customers. The project consortium of academics, government agency and commercial enterprises brings together a unique combination of skills that range from Crowdsouring and Interactive computer graphics to service innovation and Knowledge Process Outsourcing.

Planned Impact

The direct beneficiaries of this research project's outputs will be the partners, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Usha Martin, Geometric and ShapeSpace, Each of these provide a pathway to impact for the following stake holders:.

Rural Workers: Rural workers will benefit from access to a form of skilled KPO employment that does not demand specific higher education or qualifications. Currently BPO and KPO employment is only available to a relatively small proportion of the rural population who can offer professional services or handle the pressure of call-centre environments. In contrast geometric KPO can be provided by anyone with an intuitive understanding of shapes and the ability to perform windows based interactions. Although this will not be everyone anecdotal evidence suggests it will be a different group from those currently engaged in established KPO work. For example the proposers earlier work using Amazon's mTurk platform suggested that some of the best geometric reasoning work was done by workers who later used their earnings to purchase 3D Computer games [personal communication Sharon Chiarella VP Amazon Mechanical Turk]

KPO Service Providers: BPO and KPO service providers currently operate in a highly competitive international market where established services such as back-office functions and customer contact centres are offered by many countries around the world. Geometric KPO represents a new business selling a novel service to a new range of customers. It would give the rural KPO service providers a distinctive product that has to be support by bespoke software and hence a specialist niche that for a period would be free from competition. If the model is successful others will inevitably compete but the rural KPO providers in India and UK will by that time have established track records.

Manufacturing Industry: the optimisation of manufacturing processes with increase efficiency and hence the profits of many different industrial sectors (e.g. sheet steel fabricators, automatic manufacture, clothing etc). Longer term a practical method of removing the "geometric reasoning log-jam" will open up the possibility of new forms of automation and data mining, for example the ability to generate robust descriptions of a components feature content will enable new forms of "automated" process planning of processes such as CNC machining.

Society: Diversity of economic activity underpins all successful societies. The employment opportunities potentially created by Geometric KPO will impact on the well-being of individuals beyond the workers directly employed. Families, and social infrastructure (e.g. shops, pubs and garages) all benefit from increased employment. One of the drivers for rural depopulation is the lack of employment opportunities and although Geometric KPO will not in itself solve these problems it will contribute to the broadening of the populations' skills base. Impact on quality of life for those involved should be tangible. The interaction between the rural economies in India and UK will provide researchers with the opportunity to learn new practises.


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Description The project has demonstrated that online rural worker can produce performances which better established methods by several percent in problems such a 2D nesting and 3D packing.
Exploitation Route The Indian partners engaged in various activities (i.e. field work and conferences) additional to the original program throughout 2016.
In 2017 the UK researchers involved in the project form a company (ENGINEERING CROWD SERVICES Ltd) to develop the commercial potential of the work arising from this and other EPSRC projects (associated with the same group) that investigated crowdsourcing capabilities. Although (2019) the company is currently dormant the researchers involved (who are now at Hwriot-Watt and Napier Universities) continue to look for potential commercial applications.
Some of the insights into Crowdsourcing have influenced the PhD thesis of Dr Hao Wu (2017) into distributed design.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL https://burd.iiita.ac.in/workshop2015/
Description This was a project jointly funded by UK (EPSRC) and Indian (DST) governments. Due to funding delays in India although the EPSRC project officially ended the Indian researchers at IIITA continued to have funding for over a year after the end of the UK project. However the UK project team remained engaged and held two skype meetings a month to support the work of the researchers at IIITA until August 2017. The none academic impact took the form of the following workshops disseminating the project's results, the first was held in India at the "IEEE Technological Innovations in ICT for Agriculture and Rural Development" Conference, 2015 (http://www.ieeetiar.com/). The second was held at Strathclyde University on Thursday 16th June 2016 and focused on the results of the project's work on optimizing 3D packing ( http://bit.ly/1r0xPlT ).
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Title Datasets for Industrial Optimization tasks for rural workers project 
Description These Excel datasets include Creatvity assessments, 2D packing, and Socio-Economic Survey data collected from rural India and Scotland. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Not Applicable 
Description Project partnership with Geosciences Montpellier 
Organisation University of Montpellier
Department Geosciences Montpellier
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Geosciences Montpellier worked with the research team and assisted/contributed to the project outcomes
Start Year 2011
Description Project partnership with Highlands & Islands Enterprise 
Organisation Government of Scotland
Department Highlands & Islands Enterprise
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Highlands & Islands Enterprise worked with the research team and assisted/contributed to the project outcomes
Start Year 2011
Description Project partnership with Shapespace Ltd 
Organisation Shapespace Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Shapespace Ltd worked with the research team and assisted/contributed to the project outcomes
Start Year 2011
Description Engineering Crowd Services Ltd, (ECS) an engineering crowd business consulting and systems integration company provides an end-to-end cost effective crowd integration platform to solve computationally challenging patent analysing problems. 
Year Established 2017 
Impact Company is currently (March 2020) looking for start-up funding and although still register is effectively dormant..