Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mixing Biology And Electronics To Create Robotic Vision

01.11.2004


Robots are a long way from being as sophisticated as the movies would have you believe.

Sure they can crush humans at chess. But they can’t beat us at soccer < half the time they can’t even recognize the soccer ball < or defeat us in single combat and walk away from the encounter. "We don’t have robots that can physically compete with humans in any way," says Charles Higgins, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Arizona.

However, Higgins is working to change that. He hopes to make robots more physical by giving them sight and an ability to react to what they see. "Right now, robots in general are just pitiful in terms of visual interaction," Higgins said. True, a few of today’s robots can see in some sense, but they aren’t mobile. These vision systems are connected to large computers, which precludes their use in small, mobile robots.



Outside of these few vision-only systems, today’s robots see very little. "Wouldn’t it be nice to have a robot that could actually see you and interact with you visually?" Higgins asks. "You could wave at it or smile at it. You could make a face gesture. It would be wonderful to interact with robots in the same way that we interact with humans."

If Higgins has his way, at least some of the first steps toward that goal will be achieved in the next ten to 20 years through neuromorphic engineering, a discipline that combines biology and electronics. Higgins and his students are developing an airborne visual navigation system by creating electronic clones of insect vision processing systems in analog integrated circuits. The circuits create insect-like self-motion estimation, obstacle avoidance, target tracking and other visual behaviors on two model blimps.

Higgins is well qualified to combine the radically different disciplines of biology and electronics. In addition to his faculty position in ECE, he’s also on the faculty in UA’s neuroscience program, which is recognized as one of the world’s leaders in studying insect vision. He conducts research in the neuroscience labs to find out how insect vision works and then transfers those results to the ECE lab, where he creates electronic vision circuits based on the insect model.

These circuits don’t use standard microprocessors. Instead, they’re based on what’s called "parallel processing" < a bunch of slower, simpler analog processors working simultaneously on a problem. In traditional digital computers, problems are solved in serial fashion, where a single fast digital processor flashes through a series of steps to solve the problem sequentially.

In fact, today’s digital computers < as good as they are at playing chess, working spreadsheets and solving math problems < can’t tackle the much more complex activities that we, as humans, take almost for granted.

The human eye, for instance, processes information at the equivalent of about 100 frames per second (fps) < much faster than a movie camera, which trundles along at 24 fps or a video camera that runs at 30 fps.

Each frame is processed for luminance, color, and motion, and the resulting images aren’t blurred or smeared. Doing that with a conventional computer is extremely complicated, requiring expensive processors and huge gulps of power, Higgins says. "It requires a lot of data moving at a very high rate of speed and in a very small instant of time."

It’s a little like sending a digital computer out to play baseball. It has to continually rush between all nine positions on the field sequentially, catching the ball at shortstop, for instance, and then rushing to first to catch the throw it made from the shortstop position. Parallel processing < which mimics the way biological systems solve problems < would play baseball by stationing a slower processor at every position. Higgins hopes to see robotic vision develop in the same way that robotic speech processing has during the past 30 years. "Think of all the toys today that have some sort of speech interaction," he said. "In the ’70s and ’80s that would have required a bunch of expensive hardware. But in the ’90s toy manufacturers started using a microchip set that allowed them to do that very cheaply. Now some toy sets have excellent, very clear voices. I’m hoping to do the same thing with vision."

Higgins wants to develop a microchip-based vision system that could follow a moving object like a soccer ball without getting confused by similarly shaped or colored objects, or a chip that would recognize different objects < a sidewalk crack it could roll over, for instance, from a ditch that it couldn’t. "I’m not talking about a vision system that will do everything our vision system will do, or even everything an insect’s visual system will do," he said. "I’m looking at a lot less < a very specific vision subsystem that accomplishes a specific task."

Building vision systems for toys might sound a bit frivolous, particularly coming from high-powered university laboratories, but toys account for a huge amount of money in the U.S. economy. And toys have much in common with satellites, missiles, automotive systems and home electronics. "Toys are big enough that if you make a popular vision processor and you’re able to sell it to Hasbro to put on their toys and it’s a successful product, you could be a millionaire quite easily," Higgins said. "In fact, a millionaire wouldn’t even cover it."

The key to all this is packing a huge amount of highly efficient processing in a small space, which is the goal of Higgins’ research. Once that’s done, the possibilities are nearly endless. "I’d like to give engineers a vision chip set like this and see what they would do with it," Higgins said. "My bet is that they would use it for things we could never imagine now. And I know it would be a really big thing."

The first chip set might cost $30,000 to produce. Then the price might drop quickly to $200 a set and then down to $20 a set, Higgins said. "When you get that vision chip down to $20, people will be buying millions of them for their products," he said. "I’d like to see that."

Ed Stiles | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://uanews.org/engineering
http://www.ece.arizona.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Improved stability of plastic light-emitting diodes
19.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

nachricht Intelligent components for the power grid of the future
18.04.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>