EPSRC Programme Grant for Prof James Marshall

BeeBot

Congratulations to Prof. James Marshall who has been awarded a £4.8m EPSRC Programme Grant for his project: Brains on Board: Neuromorphic Control of Flying Robots, with biologists and computer scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex, and Queen Mary University of London.

What if we could design an autonomous flying robot with the navigational and learning abilities of a honeybee? Such a computationally and energy-efficient autonomous robot would represent a step-change in robotics technology, and is precisely what the 'Brains on Board' project aims to achieve. 

Autonomous control of mobile robots requires robustness to environmental and sensory uncertainty, and the flexibility to deal with novel environments and scenarios. Animals solve these problems through having flexible brains capable of unsupervised pattern detection and learning. Even 'small'-brained animals like bees exhibit sophisticated learning and navigation abilities using very efficient brains of only up to 1 million neurons, 100,000 times fewer than in a human brain. Crucially, these mini-brains nevertheless support high levels of multi-tasking and they are adaptable, within the lifetime of an individual, to completely novel scenarios; this is in marked contrast to typical control engineering solutions. 

This project will fuse computational and experimental neuroscience to develop a ground-breaking new class of highly efficient 'brain on board' robot controllers, able to exhibit adaptive behaviour while running on powerful yet lightweight General-Purpose Graphics Processing Unit hardware, now emerging for the mobile devices market. This will be demonstrated via autonomous and adaptive control of a flying robot, using an on-board computational simulation of the bee's neural circuits; an unprecedented achievement representing a step-change in robotics technology.

The project team comprises:
Prof James Marshall, DCS, Sheffield (principal investigator)
Prof Mikko Juusola, Biomedical Sciences, Sheffield
Prof Lars Chittka, Psychology, Queen Mary University of London
Prof Thomas Nowotny, Informatics, Sussex
Dr Andy Philippides, Informatics, Sussex