The research furthers the development of more intelligent robots, which can then be used by industry, and by emergency and security services, among others. Smarter robots would be better able to find humans buried beneath the rubble of a collapsed building, for example.
The EU-funded SPARK project set out to develop a new robot control architecture for roving robots inspired by the principles governing the behaviour of living systems and based on the concept of self-organisation.
Basing their work on the basic functions of the insect brain, the team developed a new architecture for artificial cognitive systems that could significantly increase the ability of robots to react to changing environmental conditions and to ‘learn’ behaviour in response to external stimuli.
The research team calls their new software architecture a spatial-temporal array computer based structure (SPARC).
Robots are complex systems that rely on software, hardware and mechanical systems all working together. One of the challenges facing researchers is to develop robots, or moving artefacts, that are capable of several different behaviours, that are able to sense or perceive external signals and, most importantly, are able to ‘learn’ and react appropriately to changing conditions.
For example, a robot travelling over unknown terrain may need to adapt its way of moving depending on whether it is navigating flat, rocky or wet ground. Or it may need to modify its course to reach a defined target.
The objective is to enable a robot to do this without human intervention, based on its own powers of perception and ability to adapt.Powers of perception
The researchers’ technical objective was to produce a moving artefact able to actively interact with its environment to carry out a set task.
The research so far has already provided a new theoretical framework, or paradigm, for active robot perception. The paradigm is based on principles borrowed from psychology, synergetics, artificial intelligence and non-linear dynamical systems theory.Learning as you go
“The SPARC architecture is a starting step toward emulating the essential perception-action architecture of living beings, where some basic behaviours are inherited, like escaping or feeding, while others are incrementally learned, leading to the emergence of higher cognitive abilities,” notes Paolo Arena, the project coordinator.
The cognitive system allows the device to autonomously ‘learn’ based on a combination of basic reflexive behaviours and feedback from external environmental data.
Once the robot is assigned a mission, compatible with its structural and mechanical capabilities – for example ‘find people alive’ – it is able to work out how best to do this itself in a particular external context.
“The robot will initially behave by using primarily the basic inherited behaviours,” says Arena. “Higher knowledge will be incrementally formed in the higher layer of the architecture, which is a neuron lattice based on the Reaction-Diffusion Cellular Non-linear Network (RD-CNN) paradigm, able to generate self-organising dynamic patterns.”
Basic behaviours incorporated in the demonstrations so far include, for example, the ability of a robot to direct itself towards a specific sound source. This optomotor reflex allows the robot to maintain heading and avoid obstacles.
During the course of the demonstration, the robot ‘learns’ how to safely reach the sound source. This it does while it is properly modulating its basic behaviours so it does not become trapped into the deadlock situations that are typical of complex and dynamically changing environments.Next steps
The project also attracted the interest of other commercial enterprises, including STMicroelectronics, which provided components and boards for Rover II, one of the robots developed by SPARK.
Altera, another company, supplied field-programmable gate array (FPGA) devices for the development and implementation of perceptual algorithms.
The advances made have led to a number of software and hardware innovations for the improvement of machine perception. The project’s industrial partners are continuing to work on the innovations.
The cognitive visual algorithms designed and improved by the project’s researchers have, for example, already been integrated into products produced by some of the project’s partners.
Hungary-based Analogic Computers, a partner in the project, has launched its InstantVision software package based on some of the research. The package has become one of the company’s lead products.
The work of the SPARK project is continuing with the SPARK II project, which will look more deeply into the details of insect brain neurobiology to refine, assess and generalise the SPARK cognitive architecture.
Further down the line, the research is expected to lead to the introduction of powerful and flexible machines suitable for use in dynamically changing environments where conditions are unstable or unpredictable, such as war zones or disaster areas.
The project has introduced a new model for action-oriented perception. Ongoing work will focus on assessing this model and on expanding it to a larger family of moving machines.
The SPARK project received funding from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research.
Ahmed ElAmin | alfa
Cutting edge research for the industries of tomorrow – DFKI and NICT expand cooperation
21.03.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI
Molecular motor-powered biocomputers
20.03.2017 | Technische Universität Dresden
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences