Self-teaching robots are being tested in Oslo as scientists step up their bid to create semi-autonomous robots for use in search and rescue missions and potential planetary assignments to extract minerals. Jim Drury reports.
The idea of robots as possible rescuers in disaster zones is often mooted, particularly in areas deemed too dangerous for human volunteers. These University of Oslo researchers want to help make that a reality. They've designed a batch of self-learning robots. Computer algorithms help give the robots innate knowledge that helps them navigate potential barriers and obstacles. Associate Professor Kyrre Glette and his colleagues 3D print the would-be rescuers themselves. SOUNDBITE (English) ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF OSLO DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS, KYRRE GLETTE, SAYING: "The robots we are testing on now, these shapes they are still kind of basic experiments. We are using 3D printers to construct their legs, which are then the shapes of the legs and how they are all put together are the product of this big computer simulation and automatic design process, and then we 3D print the shapes and assemble with motors for testing them in the real world." Researcher Eivind Samuelson is testing five basic designs of robot, first virtually and then on the lab floor. Team leader Professor Jim Torresen says narrowing the gap between on-screen and real performance is key to robots' eventual real world success. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF OSLO'S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS, JIM TORRESEN, SAYING: "It will be important to have predictable behaviour of these robots. We have to know that they wouldn't behave unexpectedly." Glette says the robots could eventually be fitted with mini 3D printers that make replacement parts. SOUNDBITE (English) ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF OSLO'S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATICS, KYRRE GLETTE, SAYING: "In case there is some unexpected barrier, some new terrain, or if a part of the robot breaks or somehow does not cope with the environment, then we would like the robot to be able to repair itself or adapt and maybe invent a new part or a new shape so that it can better cope with this challenging environment." The team says such robots could also be used to extract minerals or explore distant planets.