Tag Archives: Robotics

‘Honeybee’ robots replicate swarm behaviour

Computer scientists have created a low-cost, autonomous micro-robot which in large numbers can replicate the behaviour of swarming honeybees.

Colias – named after a genus of butterfly – is an open-platform system that can be used to investigate collective behaviours and be applied to swarm applications.

Robotic swarms that take inspiration from nature have become a topic of fascination for robotics researchers, whose aim is to study the autonomous behaviour of large numbers of simple robots in order to find technological solutions to common complex tasks.

Due to the hardware complexities and cost of creating robot hardware platforms, current research in swarm robotics is mostly performed by simulation software. However, the simulation of large numbers of these robots in robotic swarm software applications is often inaccurate due to the poor modelling of external conditions.

Colias was created by a team of scientists led by the University of Lincoln, UK, with Tsinghua University in China. It has been proven to be feasible as an autonomous platform – effectively replicating a honeybee swarm. Its small size (4cm diameter) and fast motion (35cm/s) means it can be used in fast-paced swarm scenarios over large areas.

In comparison to other mobile robots which are utilized in swarm robotic research, Colias is a low-cost platform, costing around £25, making the replication of swarm behaviour in large numbers of robots more feasible and economical for researchers.

Farshad Arvin, from the School of Computer Science, University of Lincoln, was part of the research team which developed Colias.

He said: “The platform must be able to imitate swarm behaviours found in nature, such as insects, birds and fish. Colias has been designed as a complete platform with supporting software development tools for robotics education and research. This concept allows for the coordination of simple physical robots in order to cooperatively perform tasks. The decentralised control of robotic swarms can be achieved by providing well-defined interaction rules for each individual robot. Colias has been used in a bio-inspired scenario, showing that it is extremely responsive to being used to investigate collective behaviours. Our aim was to imitate the bio-inspired mechanisms of swarm robots and to enable all research groups, even with limited funding, to perform such research with real robots.”

Long-range infrared proximity sensors allow the robot to communicate with its direct neighbours at a range of 0.5cm to 2m. A combination of three short-range sensors and an independent processor enables the individual robots to detect obstacles.

A similar but more complex mechanism has been found in locust vision, where a specific neuron called the ‘lobula giant movement detector’ reacts to objects approaching the insects’ eyes.

Co-author Professor Shigang Yue, also from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science, previously created a computerised system which supports the autonomous navigation of mobile robots based on the locust’s unique visual system.

This earlier research, published in the International Journal of Advanced Mechatronic Systems (2013), could provide the blueprint for the development of highly accurate vehicle collision sensors, surveillance technology and even aid video game programming.

The next step for the Colias research team is to work on an extension of the vision module using a faster computer processor to implement bio-inspired vision mechanisms.

Full details of their research have been published in the International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems.

The work is supported by the European Union’s FP7 project EYE2E, which aims to build international capacity and cooperation in the field of biologically inspired visual neural systems.

A video showing the swarming behaviour of Colias robots can be found at: http://youtu.be/xEvWU9FexGU

Farshad Arvin, John Murray, Chun Zang, Shigang Yue ‘Colias: An autonomous micro robot for swarm robotic applications’ International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems
DOI: 10.5772/58730http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/47293.pdf

Shigang Yue, F. Claire Rind ‘Visually Stimulated Motor Control for a Robot with a Pair of LGMD Visual Neural Networks’International Journal of Advanced Mechatronic Systems
DOI: 10.1504/IJAMECHS.2012.052219 http://www.inderscience.com/offer.php?id=52219

colias1 colias2 colias3

The role robotics could play in future food production

A team of computer scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, is co-organising an international workshop on recent advances in agricultural robotics.

Academics from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) will be attending the 13th International Conference on Intelligent Autonomous Systems (IAS-13) from 15th to 19th July, 2014.

Recent results confirm that robots, machines and systems are rapidly achieving intelligence and autonomy, mastering more and more capabilities such as mobility and manipulation, sensing and perception, reasoning and decision making.

The Series of International Conference on Intelligent Autonomous Systems (IAS) founded in 1986 is one of the major events summarising this trend.

As part of this year’s conference Lincoln scientists will be running a workshop with the aim of bringing together both academic and industrial communities to discuss recent advances in robotic applications for agriculture and horticulture.

The world’s rapidly growing population brings new challenges for global food security. To meet the future demand for more, cheaper and better quality food, new and innovative solutions and improvements to current agricultural practices are required. Agricultural robotics is one of the promising technological solutions for addressing these problems.

Dr Grzegorz Cielniak, senior lecturer in the School of Computer Science, said: “The workshop will provide a forum to present the state-of-the-art technical solutions in agricultural robotics and new exciting robotics platforms, but also to encourage future collaborations between the participants.

“Recent examples have shown agricultural robotics autonomously performing a number of different agricultural tasks, from monitoring soil and crop properties and harvesting fruit in orchards, to mechanical weeders eliminating the need for herbicides to produce affordable, safer food. Using teams of small specialised agricultural robots instead of the currently used heavy machinery can result in lower soil compaction leading to energy savings, but also in more robust systems in the case of technical failures. The number of potential new applications is enormous.”

Projects involving L-CAS include a 12-month feasibility study, funded by a £132,000 grant from the Technology Strategy Board, to create a system of laser sensors to accurately control agricultural sprayers.

Other tasks include the creation of new multi-purpose imaging technology to undertake quality inspection tasks in the food industry; automatic identification of potato blemishes and improvements in the seal integrity of heat-sealed packaging.

The workshop is supported by IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Technical Committee on Agricultural Robotics & Automation and is a continuation of previous agricultural robotics events held as part of IROS2012 and ICRA2008 conferences.

IAS-13, which is taking place in Padova, Italy, invites researchers, engineers and practitioners to disseminate their achievements and provides them with a forum to exchange their ideas.

Agricultural robotics helping to meet the demand for future food production
Agricultural robotics helping to meet the demand for future food production

University robot invited to launch of prestigious Longitude Prize

Linda the robot was one of the star attractions at the high-profile Longitude Prize 2014 launch, which aims to help solve one of the greatest issues of our time.

Linda is one of six specialist mobile robots involved in the £7.2 million collaborative STRANDS project aimed at creating robots that are able to operate independently and ultimately support security guards or staff in care homes.

Based at the University of Lincoln, UK, Linda was invited to attend New Broadcasting House in London for the official launch of the Longitude Prize on Monday, 19th May.

In 1714 the British government threw down the gauntlet to solve one of the great scientific challenges of that century – how to pinpoint a ship’s location at sea by knowing its longitude.

Longitude Prize 2014 is a challenge with a multi-million pound prize fund to help solve one of the greatest challenges we’re facing today. It is being run and developed by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation.

Linda will be accompanied by Dr Marc Hanheide from the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science and Dr Nick Hawes from the University of Birmingham, who are collaborating on the STRANDS project.

Dr Hanheide, whose background is in Artificial Intelligence, is leading the research on how the robots gather information about their surroundings, and use this learned knowledge to interact appropriately with human users.

Dr Hanheide said: “It was fantastic to be asked to show off Linda at this hugely prestigious event. Two of the other robots are currently at G4S Technology in Tewksbury, UK, and the care facility Haus der Barmherzigkeit in Vienna, Austria, so we will soon be able to see how effective they are in real-world environments and use this data to develop their future learning models.”

Other partners in the STRANDS project include Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden); RWTH Aachen University (Germany); The Vienna University of Technology (Austria) and University of Leeds (UK).

Linda will be continuing her travels in June 2014, watch this space for details!

 

Linda and Dr Marc Hanheide
Linda and Dr Marc Hanheide

 

Robotics project highlighted as one of the best in Europe

The European Commission has named the STRANDS robotics project as one of the best, as part of EU Robotics Week.

Lincoln’s robot Linda has been taking part in a robot marathon this week, squaring off against robot partners in Leeds, Birmingham,  Sweden, Germany and Austria.

The robots have been battling it out to be the last one standing – the challenge is for them to autonomously patrol a populated environment for as long as possible, covering the most distance in the shortest time.

Linda is currently in the lead on best distance travelled. Go Linda!

STRANDS is an EU-funded project enabling robots to achieve robust and intelligent behaviour in human environments.
The robots will be evaluated in a care home for the elderly in Austria (assisting human carers), and in an office environment patrolled by G4S Technology security firm.

Follow the final stages of Linda’s progress in the robot marathon at http://strands.acin.tuwien.ac.at/marathon.html