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Monday, June 29, 2009

The Robot Carer

Many researchers in the US are working to give robots the ability to learn about their environment without the aid of the humans that built them.

Already a robotic pet has been developed which can be fed information about the terrain in front of it by a circle of cameras.

It is not pre-programmed for the task - but makes its own decisions instantly about
which route to take.

Once robots can learn they could find a role in many diverse fields.

Japan, for example, hopes to use humanoids as caregivers for an increasingly elderly population.

Alternatively miniature robots might one day crawl through our intestines looking for and fixing medical problems.

One learning robot project at MIT is an ornithopter that has a computer on board. Every time it flies it learns how to fly better. One day this may be the perfect surveillance or search tool.

The Ornithopter

The computer driven ornithopter learns from expereince

MIT PhD student John Roberts said: "There is a lot of computational power which is important because some of the learning algorithms can be relatively intensive.

"We have a number of sensors here that are able to measure the rate it's spinning, the accelerations it is experiencing."

Better batteries, smaller chips and more computing power are helping the project get closer to its ultimate goal which is for the robot bird to mimic the endurance, manoeuvrability and speed of a living creature.

These are the challenges that generations of students and professors at MIT have tackled.

Thousands of hours of painstaking research, hundreds of tiny scientific steps forward slowly creeping in the right direction until eventually, for a lucky few the eureka moment arrives.

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