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Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

A way of making hundreds -- or even thousands -- of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

The team, working in the Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo), in the University's Faculty of Engineering, has programmed extremely simple robots that are able to form a dense cluster without the need for complex computation, in a similar way to how a swarm of bees or a flock of birds is able to carry out tasks collectively.

The work, published April 17, 2014 in the International Journal of Robotics Research, paves the way for robot 'swarms' to be used in, for example, the agricultural industry where precision farming methods could benefit from the use of large numbers of very simple and cheap robots.

A group of 40 robots has been programmed to perform the clustering task and the researchers have shown, using computer simulations, that this could be expanded to include thousands of robots.

Each robot uses just one sensor that tells them whether or not they can 'see' another robot in front of them. Based on whether or not they can see another robot, they will either rotate on the spot, or move around in a circle until they can see one.

In this way they are able to gradually form and maintain a cluster formation. The system's ingenuity lies in its simplicity. The robots have no memory, do not need to perform any calculations and require only very little information about the environment.

Until now robotic swarms have required complex programming, which means it would be extremely difficult to miniaturise the individual robots.

With the programming developed by the Sheffield team, however, it could be possible to develop extremely small -- even nanoscale -- machines.

The Sheffield system also shows that even if the information perceived by the robots gets partially corrupted, the majority of them will still be able to work together to complete the task.

Roderich Gross, of SCentRo, explains: "What we have shown is that robots do not need to compute to solve problems like that of gathering into a single cluster, and the same could be true for swarming behaviours that we find in nature, such as in bacteria, fish, or mammals."

"This means we are able to 'scale up' these swarms, to use thousands of robots that could then be programmed to perform tasks. In a real world scenario, this could involve monitoring the levels of pollution in the environment; we could also see them being used to perform tasks in areas where it would be hazardous for humans to go. Because they are so simple, we could also imagine these robots being used at the micron-scale, for example in healthcare technologies, where they could travel through the human vascular network to offer diagnosis or treatment in a non-invasive way."

The researchers are now focusing on programming the robots to accomplish simple tasks by interacting with other objects, for example by moving them around or by sorting them into groups.

Video of the swarming robots can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO9JxFLgh94&feature=youtu.be

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Sheffield. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

 

People pay more attention to upper half of field of vision, study shows

A new study from North Carolina State University and the University of Toronto finds that people pay more attention to the upper half of their field of vision -- a finding which could have ramifications for everything from traffic signs to software interface design.

"Specifically, we tested people's ability to quickly identify a target amidst visual clutter," says Dr. Jing Feng, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. "Basically, we wanted to see where people concentrate their attention at first glance."

Researchers had participants fix their eyes on the center of a computer screen, and then flashed a target and distracting symbols onto the screen for 10 to 80 milliseconds. The screen was then replaced by an unconnected "mask" image to disrupt their train of thought. Participants were asked to indicate where the target had been located on the screen.

Researchers found that people were 7 percent better at finding the target when it was located in the upper half of the screen.

"It doesn't mean people don't pay attention to the lower field of vision, but they were demonstrably better at paying attention to the upper field," Feng says.

"A difference of 7 percent could make a significant difference for technologies that are safety-related or that we interact with on a regular basis," Feng says. "For example, this could make a difference in determining where to locate traffic signs to make them more noticeable to drivers, or where to place important information on a website to highlight that information for users."

The paper, "Upper Visual Field Advantage in Localizing a Target among Distractors," is published online in the open-access journal i-Perception.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. The original article was written by Matt Shipman. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

 

Chess robots to cause Judgment Day?

Next time you play a computer at chess, think about the implications if you beat it. It could be a very sore loser!

A study just published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence reflects upon the growing need for autonomous technology, and suggests that humans should be very careful to prevent future systems from developing anti-social and potentially harmful behaviour.

Modern military and economic pressures require autonomous systems that can react quickly -- and without human input. These systems will be required to make rational decisions for themselves.

Researcher Steve Omohundro writes: "When roboticists are asked by nervous onlookers about safety, a common answer is 'We can always unplug it!' But imagine this outcome from the chess robot's point of view. A future in which it is unplugged is a future in which it cannot play or win any games of chess."

Like a plot from The Terminator movie, we are suddenly faced with the prospect of real threat from autonomous systems unless they are designed very carefully. Like a human being or animal seeking self-preservation, a rational machine could exert the following harmful or anti-social behaviours:

  • Self-protection, as exampled above.
  • Resource acquisition, through cyber theft, manipulation or domination.
  • Improved efficiency, through alternative utilisation of resources.
  • Self-improvement, such as removing design constraints if doing so is deemed advantageous.

The study highlights the vulnerability of current autonomous systems to hackers and malfunctions, citing past accidents that have caused multi-billion dollars' worth of damage, or loss of human life. Unfortunately, the task of designing more rational systems that can safeguard against the malfunctions that occurred in these accidents is a more complex task that is immediately apparent:

"Harmful systems might at first appear to be harder to design or less powerful than safe systems. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. Most simple utility functions will cause harmful behaviour and it is easy to design simple utility functions that would be extremely harmful."

This fascinating study concludes by stressing the extreme caution that should be used in designing and deploying future rational technology. It suggests a sequence of provably safe systems should first be developed, and then applied to all future autonomous systems. That should keep future chess robots in check.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Taylor & Francis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

   

Strong software protection needed for mobile devices

The massive adoption of mobile computing platforms creates the urgent need for secure application execution on such platforms. Unfortunately, today's mobile platforms do not support strong security solutions equivalent to smartcards in set-top boxes or to dongles to reliably control licensing terms. Furthermore, many of these mobile devices are shared for professional and private applications, and are thus intrinsically hard to control and secure.

Michael Zunke, chief technology officer of SafeNet's Software Monetization Business Unit states that "Security is ever more essential as an enabler for the sustainable innovation of mobile applications and services. Security solutions based on custom hardware security components like dongles and smart cards are not a natural fit for these mobile environments. The industry therefore needs a comprehensive security framework in which software protection is the key ingredient."

According to Brecht Wyseur, NAGRA's security architect, the big challenge in the next years will be to increase the security level of software solutions to allow for both cost effective deployment and long-term renewability, either stand-alone or in combination with a hardware root of trust.

Hence, more research is needed to come up with a solution that is strong enough to be a viable solution for an increasing number of applications in which privacy and security are essential. The ASPIRE project will create the ASPIRE software security framework which will develop, combine and integrate five different types of software protection techniques into one easy to use framework. It will deliver comprehensive, effective security metrics and a decision support system to assist the software developer.

"The integrated tool chain will allow service providers to automatically protect the assets in their mobile applications with the best local and network-based protection techniques," notes Bjorn De Sutter, coordinator of the project, adding that "ASPIRE will make mobile software more trustworthy by leveraging the available network connection and by developing a layered security approach of strong protections. We will also make it measurable by developing practical, validated attack and protection models and practical metrics."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ghent University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

 

Strong software protection needed for mobile devices

The massive adoption of mobile computing platforms creates the urgent need for secure application execution on such platforms. Unfortunately, today's mobile platforms do not support strong security solutions equivalent to smartcards in set-top boxes or to dongles to reliably control licensing terms. Furthermore, many of these mobile devices are shared for professional and private applications, and are thus intrinsically hard to control and secure.

Michael Zunke, chief technology officer of SafeNet's Software Monetization Business Unit states that "Security is ever more essential as an enabler for the sustainable innovation of mobile applications and services. Security solutions based on custom hardware security components like dongles and smart cards are not a natural fit for these mobile environments. The industry therefore needs a comprehensive security framework in which software protection is the key ingredient."

According to Brecht Wyseur, NAGRA's security architect, the big challenge in the next years will be to increase the security level of software solutions to allow for both cost effective deployment and long-term renewability, either stand-alone or in combination with a hardware root of trust.

Hence, more research is needed to come up with a solution that is strong enough to be a viable solution for an increasing number of applications in which privacy and security are essential. The ASPIRE project will create the ASPIRE software security framework which will develop, combine and integrate five different types of software protection techniques into one easy to use framework. It will deliver comprehensive, effective security metrics and a decision support system to assist the software developer.

"The integrated tool chain will allow service providers to automatically protect the assets in their mobile applications with the best local and network-based protection techniques," notes Bjorn De Sutter, coordinator of the project, adding that "ASPIRE will make mobile software more trustworthy by leveraging the available network connection and by developing a layered security approach of strong protections. We will also make it measurable by developing practical, validated attack and protection models and practical metrics."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ghent University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

   

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