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iRobis Announces Complete Cognitive Software System for Robots

1st December 2008 - 06:20 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Institute of Robotics in Scandinavia (iRobis) has announced that the world's first "complete cognitive software system for robotics" is ready for application. The system turns robots into self-developing, adaptive, problem-solving, "thinking" machines.

Brainstorm automatically adapts to onboard sensors and actuators, immediately builds a model of any robot on which it is installed, and automatically writes control programs for the robot's movements. It can then explore and model its environment. Through simulated interaction using these models, it solves problems and develops new behavior using "imagination." Once it has "learned" to do something, it can use its imagination to adapt its behavior to a wide range of circumstances.

A methodology known as genetic programming (GP) is "the trick" that makes it all possible. GP is an automated programming methodology inspired by natural evolution that is used to evolve computer programs. Evolving computer programs means the logic developed by the system can be anything that can be expressed by a computer program. That basically means anything. Robots need descriptions of things they are supposed to do and they figure out how to do them. GP itself is not an approach exclusive to robotic behavior. It has been applied to a variety of problems, some already yielding commercial successes. An example well-known to scientists in the field was the development of invention machines that had created two new patentable inventions by 2002. The potential for "thinking robots" goes well beyond developing their own actions.

The system is constructed using components and the learning / adaptive mechanisms can be turned on and off. This provides a broad range of choices to satisfy requirements. It can for example, be used for rapid development of control systems that cannot be modified after testing is complete or the learning adaptive system can remain on during use allowing the robot to continue to evolve as it gains real-life experience. The level of learning and adaptation can be adjusted to requirements. It can be used to build robot software from the ground up fulfilling all requirements or an add-on to an existing system that provides learning and adaptive behavior. Although product development time can be significantly shortened and less costly, it will still follow a familiar pattern. Product developers need to define their product requirements and engineers will make decisions about the best configurations and settings.

Some of the engineering work will be dramatically transformed however. Rather than working on writing millions of lines of programming, engineers will focus on the best descriptions of desired behavior and testing. iRobis can already provide a range of predefined basic behaviors for mobile robots and plans to expand its behavioral library. The fact that the system builds its own programs creates an opportunity for rapid research and development through experimentation. Robots and environments can be constructed in simulation where the behavioral programming will be automatically constructed. This allows a great deal of experimentation on design to be carried out rapidly before committing to construction of physical prototypes, allowing overall advancements to proceed at a faster pace.

The research model for Brainstorm was developed in the 1990s at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. Dr. Nordin's research there focused on self-developing computer programs and developed a new architecture for intelligent robotics using GP. The architecture was first presented in 1999 at The Fourth International Symposium on Artificial Life and Robotics in Oita, Japan. ("An Evolutionary Architecture for a Humanoid Robot") The 1999 presentation already included demonstration of robots that learned balance, human gait, practical use of bifocal vision, navigation, audio orientation, hand-eye coordination, and object manipulation. The 5 year long Humanoid Project at Chalmers furthered the work with creation of hundreds of working robots of many types and sizes.

iRobis has been working on the commercial version under a "dual use" contract with the Swedish Defense Department. Results are intended to benefit both military and non-military technology. The announcement does not mean that the software is available to download for a free 30-day trial. In the short-term, iRobis expects to work directly with early commercial adopters and researchers to create prototypes with previously unseen levels of intelligent autonomous behavior and to prove the value of the system for rapid development and advanced experimentation. The search is on for the most valuable partners.

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