Having a robot around the house might be nice, but not if it keeps stepping on the cat and tripping over the coffee table. This month, the public will get the chance to meet a robot at the Natural History Museum in London that may be a bit kinder to furniture and tabbies. The University of Lincoln’s Linda robot, which will mingle with visitors, is designed to learn about its surroundings and make it easier to work human environments.
Looking like a pair of eyes in a fishbowl stuck on traffic cone, Linda is a mobile robot developed by the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science. Its name is a reference to “Lindum Colonia,” the ancient name for the city of Lincoln. It’s one of six robots built for the £7.2 million (US$12 million) STRANDS project, which aims to produce robots suitable for working with security guards and staff in nursing homes.
Most state-of-the-art robots are given maps of their surroundings, or create them when they begin operations in an area. This works, but human environments tend to change over time as furniture is moved, people come and go, and objects disappear and reappear. These degrade the robot’s map as anomalies build up. The result is that most robots can only operate for a few hours before needing to restart and remap the area.
Linda is designed to operate independently by not only creating 3D maps of the area, but also continuously updating those maps to take into account how they change. By constantly studying shapes, people, and activities, Linda can build models and “learn” about an area as it identifies changes and alters its behavior to accommodate them.
Security and nursing are an ideal first application because those environments are relatively stable and predictable, so they’re easy for Linda to learn. According to the development team, Linda can currently map a building and run on its own for 30 days. The goal is to get Linda to operate for 120 days straight by the end of the project, though the system could potentially operate autonomously for months at a time, and in less structured environments, such as a museum full of visitors.
Linda is the centerpiece of the “Robots on Patrol” exhibit running from June 9 to 13, and is one of a number of exhibits for Universities Week 2014.
“It’s not just about providing a care home or security robot," according to Dr Marc Hanheide, who will be at the exhibit to explain Linda’s abilities. "We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long-term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time. It will have many possible applications and taking Linda to the Natural History Museum is a fantastic opportunity for people to see how robots like this will, one day, be able to aid and assist humans in a variety of roles.”
Source: University of Lincoln