Lincoln scientists to help in intelligent robots project

Two University of Lincoln professors will help develop software and research for a £7.2 million project to build specialist robots that will learn how to act intelligently from experiences in real-world environments.

The Spatio-Temporal Representations and Activities for Cognitive Control in Long-term scenarios (STRANDS) project involves security company G4S Technology and the Academy of Ageing Research, an Austrian care home provider where the technology developed throughout the project will be tested.

Professor Tom Duckett and Dr Marc Hanheide from the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science have been awarded £750,000 in funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework programme led by the University of Birmingham.

The aim of the professors’ research will be to create mobile robots capable of operating intelligently based on an understanding of 3D space and how this space changes overtime.

The professors are tasked with developing the software to process the sheer volume of experiences the robots will face.

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Professor Ducket, Director of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems Research, will lead the research on creating 4D maps (3D mapping over extended time periods) of the environment and investigate methods for detecting changes and unusual situations.

He said: “The idea is to create service robots that will work with people and learn from long term experiences. What’s unusual about any environment depends on the context.

“In a security scenario a robot will be required to perform regular patrols and continually inspect its surroundings for variations from its normal experiences.

“Certain changes such as finding a person in a restricted area may indicate a security violation or a burglary.

“In a care home a robot will be required to act as an assistant for elderly patients, fetching and carrying things while also being alert to incidents such as people falling over.

“It’s not just about developing a care home or security robot. We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time.

“The technology will have many possible applications,” Professor Ducket explained.

Not only will the robots require an understanding of the environment around them, they will also need to understand person detection, tracking and activity recognition.

Dr Hanheide, with a background in Artificial Intelligence, will take charge of researching how robots gather and process information about their surroundings and apply this knowledge to interact appropriately with human users.

Dr Hanheide spoke of aiming to develop robots that can develop a “common-sense attitude” on how the world should be and be able to identify deviations:

“The robots are curious to learn about the environment – they will see if something has changed and whether that’s a one off or a regular occurrence. Our robots will be active for long periods in dynamic and changing environments.”

Current industry robots can run for 24 hours a day in well-controlled environments but these robots do not adjust or improve due to a lack of understanding of their long term experience. Cognitive robots can learn and adapt, but most are used for singular experiments.

“We want to build a bridge between the two by creating robots that can run for long periods of time and also make use of life-long learning capabilities to adapt to the needs of different users.”