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The University of Scheffield is a leading force in a the development of intelligent robots. According to a new’s release from the University’s Press Office the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering (ACSE), has created software that enables the robot (propelled by a quadcopter propulsion system)  to learn about its surroundings using a forward facing camera mounted at the front of the machine.

“The robot starts with no information about its environment and the objects within it. By overlaying different frames from the camera and selecting key reference points within the scene, it builds up a 3D map of the world around it. Other sensors pick up barometric and ultrasonic data, which give the robot additional clues about its environment. All this information is fed into autopilot software to allow the robot to navigate safely, but also to learn about the objects nearby and navigate to specific items.”

“We are used to the robots of science fiction films being able to act independently, recognize objects and individuals and make decisions,” explains Professor Sandor Veres, who is leading the research. “In the real world, however, although robots can be extremely intelligent individually, their ability to co-operate and interact with each other and with humans is still very limited.

“As we develop robots for use in space or to send into nuclear environments – places where humans cannot easily go – the goal will be for them to understand their surroundings and make decisions based on that understanding.”

Another key task for these robots is to be able to interact and co-operate with each other without overloading communications networks – a vital ability in emergency situations where networks will already be overloaded.
Programming developed by the team enables the Quadcopters to work out how to ‘politely’ fly past each other without colliding. The robots start off flying at the same altitude and then need to collaborate to work out which robot would fly higher and which would fly lower so they are able to pass.