Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is part of a new £1.2m project which aims to ensure future robotic systems can be trusted by humans.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding the three-and-a-half-year project, which will explore how robots interact with humans in a safe and trustworthy manner.
Robots are increasingly being developed to serve as active ‘helpers’ in situations where humans require assistance, such as personal care robots which help patients during recovery.
Although there has been some research carried out on safety of robotic assistants during interaction with humans, it is still crucial to understand not only whether the robot makes safe moves, but whether it knowingly or deliberately makes unsafe moves.
If human-robot teamwork is to become viable and productive, the humans involved must be fully confident in the robot’s behaviour.
Experts from BRL, a collaborative partnership between UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol, will work with industry partners and colleagues at the Universities of Liverpool and Hertfordshire on the “Trustworthy Robotic Assistants” (TRA) project.
Bristol University’s Dr Kerstin Eder, the principal investigator for the TRA project at the BRL and Leader of the Verification & Validation for Safety in Robots research theme at the same institute, said: “Safety assurance of robots is an urgent research challenge that must be addressed before many products that already exist in labs can be unlocked for mass production. This requires collaboration of verification experts with roboticists and those who specialize in human-robot interaction, so that a human-centric, holistic approach to safety assurance can be developed.”
‘BERT’, one of the robotic platforms being used on the project, was developed as part of a research project on Cooperative Human Robot Interactive Systems, at BRL. BERT has been used to examine manufacturing scenarios in which BERT collaborated with human colleagues to complete manufacturing tasks, including dynamic component handovers and product manufacture. BERT is based at BRL’s custom robot test and evaluation facility, at UWE Bristol.
Professor Tony Pipe, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at UWE Bristol, said: “Working on this new research project with colleagues across the UK will enable us to tackle the crucial issue of developing robotic systems which can work safely with humans. This is a vital step in developing robots for a whole range of functions for the future, where they will be useful to humans.”
The project involves teams from the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology (led by Professor Michael Fisher and Dr Clare Dixon), the University of Hertfordshire’s Adaptive Systems Research Group (led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn), the BRL, as well as industrial partners, including the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) and RU Robots Limited.
Professor Michael Fisher, principal investigator at Liverpool and Director of the University’s Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology, said: “The assessment of robotic trustworthiness has many facets, from the safety analysis of robot behaviours, through physical reliability of interactions, to human perceptions of such safe operation.”
Liverpool’s researchers are internationally recognised for their research on logic, formal analysis, and the foundations of autonomy and, both within the multidisciplinary Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology and within the “Trustworthy Robotic Assistants” project, their role is to provide a rigorous formal basis for developing reliable, safe and trustworthy autonomous systems.
Bristol is to host the world’s most advanced autonomous robots next year at the FIRA RoboWorld Cup 2012.
The FIRA RoboWorld Cup, founded in 1996, is a way of inspiring interest in robotics and through the competition, teams are encouraged to develop systems and build on their scientific and engineering skills. Technology developed for the tournament requires a holistic view, combining mechanical, electronic and software engineering, integrating advanced AI, automated control and image processing technology.
Alongside the games, a major scientific conference, the FIRA/TAROS Congress, will bring together the leading experts in robotics in the UK and worldwide. BRL won a competitive bid to host these events as the largest multi-disciplinary robotics facility in the UK with an international reputation in advanced robotics research.
The tournament includes several events:
- MiroSot, a micro-robot soccer tournament, using teams of miniature robots;
- SimuroSot, a simulated soccer tournament played on computers; and
- HuroSot, a five-a-side soccer game played by humanoid robots, which have two legs and mimic human movement. The robots are up to 150 cm high and weigh up to 30 kg. The pitch measures approx 430 cm by 350 cm.
“We are really excited to win this bid to host these two events,” said Dr Guido Herrmann, conference chair and Senior Lecturer in Dynamics and Control in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol. “The robot games are a way of encouraging younger researchers to get involved in something that will test their abilities and show what autonomous robots can do. Teams work together to design and build the robots, and by pooling their knowledge in this challenge they are able to push the boundaries of robotics.
“BRL have already formed a team to take part in HuroSot, made up of students and staff and they will be working on the design of their robots over the next 18 months,” he added. “We are looking forward to welcoming teams from around the world, and welcoming the world’s leading experts in robotics to Bristol in 2012.”
- Robotic Hand Promises Human-Like Movement (pamil-visions.net)
- Meet the robotic soccer players of RoboCup 2011 [Video] (io9.com)
- Artificial Intelligence Gets A Kick From Soccer Androids (80percentmental.com)
- 10 Robots on the Rise (abcnews.go.com)
- Self-Sustaining Robot Equipped with New Artificial Gut Eats, and Excretes, All By Itself (popsci.com)
- Robots ready to run full marathon (gizmag.com)
- I-Swarm Micro Robots Realized (electronics-lab.com)
The world’s first control system that will allow engineers to programme autonomous satellites and spacecraft to think for themselves has been developed by scientists from the University of Southampton.
Professor Sandor Veres and his team of engineers have developed a cognitive software agent control system called ‘sysbrain’ that uses natural language programming (NLP) to ‘read’ special English language technical documents on control methods. This gives the vehicles advanced guidance, navigation and feedback capabilities to stop them crashing into other objects, as well as agent-based control with mission execution capabilities and the ability to recognise and reconfigure faults. This approach can be applied to other automated systems.
“This is the world’s first publishing system of technical knowledge for machines and opens the way for engineers to publish control instructions to machines directly,” said Professor Veres, who is leading the EPSRC-funded project. “As well as spacecrafts and satellites, this innovative technology is transferable to other types of autonomous vehicles, such as autonomous underwater, ground and aerial vehicles.”
To test the control systems that could be applied in a space environment, Professor Veres and his team constructed a unique test facility and a fleet of satellite models, which are controlled by the sysbrain cognitive agent control system. The ‘Autonomous Systems Testbed’ consists of a glass covered precision level table, surrounded by a metal framework, which is used to mount overhead visual markers, observation cameras and isolation curtains to prevent any external light sources interfering with experimentation. Visual navigation is performed using onboard cameras to observe the overhead marker system located above the test area. This replicates how spacecraft would use points in the solar system to determine their orientation.
“We have invented sysbrain to control intelligent machines. Sysbrain is a special breed of software agents with unique features such as natural language programming to create them, human-like reasoning, and most importantly they can read special English language documents in ‘system English’ or ‘sEnglish’,” said Professor Veres. “Human authors of sEnglish documents can put them on the web as publications and sysbrain can read them to enhance their physical and problem solving skills. This allows engineers to write technical papers directly for sysbrain that control the machines.”