Researchers from the NUI Galway and the University of Ulster are creating integrated circuit technology inspired by biology. These circuits imitate the way the neuron structure and the brain function, giving robots the ability to think independently while performing search and rescue operations or space explorations.
The research activities aim at applying neural networks specifically the hardware spiking system for controlling the autonomous robots which can operate independently in remote locations without any supervision. Dr. Fearghal Morgan from NUI Galway explained that electronic neurons cannot imitate the complexities of the human neuron’s capabilities or the huge number of neural connections, however, after studying intricately the human brain structure they have developed hardware spiking neural network which is used to control the robot. He further added that the electronic device understands the environment the robot is present in with the help of sensing devices, such as cameras and ultrasonic sensors. The neural network then adjusts the robot’s behaviour according to the sensed environment and sends signals to enable activities such as walking, avoiding obstacles or grasping.
Morgan added that their research concentrated on mimicking nature’s evolution. The neural device developed by them could be trained to perform a particular function and retrained to suit numerous application needs. He said that the training process is very similar to the training of the brain, which involves forming, strengthening and weakening neural links and specifying the conditions that triggers a neuron and subsequently sending signals to all other neurons. Similar to the brain, the neurons collectively make decisions based on input signals to result in an action in the controlled system. He noted that robotics has focussed on electronic controllers consisting of one or more microprocessors that execute instructions in a sequence. The speed of these processors is limited by the instruction processing and power consumption. Morgan pointed out that the project aims at developing a robust, intelligent hardware neural network robotic controller capable of independently adapting to the environment changes and rectifying internal faults by itself. Dr. Jim Harkin from the University of Ulster concluded that the system must be capable of identifying and resolving internal electronic faults and function without human intervention. Some of the institutions providing financial aid to the project are Science Foundation Ireland, the International Centre for Graduate Education in Micro- and Nano-Engineering (ICGEE), University of Ulster’s Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarship and Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET).