Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Robot taught lesson of patience

Dr QingXiang Wu
Dr QingXiang Wu puts Ifomind through its paces

Scientists at a Belfast university have developed a mobile robot system that can reason about change and adapt.

The scientists, led by Professor David Bell from Queen's, have won the British Computer Society's prize for Progress Towards Machine Intelligence.

The robot, named Ifomind, combines learning and reasoning to decide the best way to interact with objects.

Professor Bell likened the reaction of the robot to how an animal may react to another it has not previously seen.

Initially reacting in a "fearful" manner when encountering a new object, Ifomind has also been equipped with inquisitiveness.

This means the robot recognises it can react in different ways and does not have to be scared of something which may not be harmful to it.

"The Ifomind mobile robot system is equipped to wait and watch in order to see if it can get some new information," he said.

"It can then retain this information as it carries on and meets more objects.

"A major challenge in artificial intelligence is the development of a system that can observe events in an unknown scenario, and then learn and participate as a child would.

"Our team at QUB have not achieved this yet but we have certainly made a significant and noteworthy advance."

Professor David Bell
Professor Bell likened the reaction of the robot to an animal's

The award-winning QUB team also included Dr QingXiang Wu and Marcel Ono, with input from Dr Tony Savage of the School of Psychology.

The project was partially funded by Invest Northern Ireland and it has potential applications in a wide range of areas.

The techniques can be used in devices such as household equipment or cars, large scale production control systems or complex adaptive software systems.

Professor Max Bramer, Chairman of the British Computer Society's Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence (SGAI) said they wanted to use the award, sponsored by Electrolux, to showcase and reward achievement in the field.

"As a group we are committed to fostering achievement, capability and awareness of applied artificial intelligence," he said.

Sales of domestic appliance robots reached 39,000 units in 2003 and are forecast to hit 20 million by 2008.

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