09 May 2005

New generation of robots to make decisions like humans

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have been given a £1.9m grant by the EPSRC to develop a new generation of robots that can respond to their environment in the same way as humans and animals do. The multi-disciplinary research team will aim to understand the way in which animals process sensory information to make behavioural decisions. They will then use this information to develop a new breed of robots that can make action decisions based on their environment.

The REVERB project will be led by Dr Kevin Gurney in the Adaptive Behaviour Research Group of the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology. The aim of the project is to build 'intelligent' robots that are able to make computational decisions and multi-task like humans. The team, from a number of leading UK universities and BAE Systems Plc, will combine brand new understanding about the animal brain and visual system with cutting edge robot and 'chip' technology to develop the robots. While the research will focus on using visual information, the ultimate aim is to understand common principles that can apply to any sensory system driving behaviour.

Dr Kevin Gurney said, "This research grant will enable a diverse team of specialists from across the country to bring together knowledge of the nervous system and the latest developments in robotics to create robots that have behaviours able to match those of humans.

"Essentially, we anticipate that the robots will be able to process sensory information from their surroundings in the same way that the human nervous system does, and based on that information, decide how to act. For example, the new breed of robots will be able to notice any sudden change in their surroundings - such as something appearing in the periphery of its vision - and will make an almost instantaneous decision as to whether the change warrants any action."

Dr Gurney anticipates that the outcomes of the REVERB project will have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the brain and the application of that knowledge in robots in diverse fields, "Robots that can interpret and respond to their surroundings could, in the future, be used to construct devices to aid people with disabilities, or to help in hostile environments such as deep oceans or space."

The institutions involved in the REVERB project are: the University of Sheffield, the University of Manchester, the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Wales (Aberystwyth), the University of Oxford, the University of Dundee and BAE Systems Plc.