Thinking man’s robot

A team of computer scientists at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth have secured a major grant to build a new robot that will react to changes in its environment.

Led by Professor Mark Lee, the Aberystwyth team is joined by academics from six other leading universities who, together, have secured £1.9m of financial backing from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for the project. The Aberystwyth share is £470k.

According to Professor Lee, the purpose of this project is to build a robot that can ‘think’ for itself.

The team will work on three areas of development. The robot will be built to recognise objects and retrieve them using a robot ‘arm’ and cameras for ‘eyes’. It will also be able to detect features and events in its local environment. Finally, it will have the ability to assess the significance of current events, direct attention to the most important and perform appropriate actions.

“All these capabilities will be combined within an overall control system that makes use of a central selection mechanism,” added Professor Lee.

The next stage will involve ‘teaching’ the robot how to react to things that change around it – for example something which could potentially distract it from the task it has been set.

Professor Lee is particularly interested in robots that can provide assistance for the disabled, the old and the infirm, and the advantages of developing them to work in dangerous, hostile or inaccessible environments.

The full project team is made up of mathematicians, control engineers, computer modellers and neuroscientists. The five year project has also secured the backing of industrial sponsor BAE Systems.