Robots with 'human' vision to be used to work in nuclear reactors

Scientists are developing robots that have eyesight that works in the same way as human vision.

The robots will be able to determine what is the most important object in its field of vision and act accordingly, just like humans do.

Scientists hope that the technology  will let 'intelligent' robots operate inside dangerous places like nuclear reactors where it would too dangerous for humans to enter.

Inside the heart of the reactor core in Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant

Inside the heart of the reactor core in Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant in France. The project will develop 3D camera vision which lets robots operate in dangerous environments

The advanced robot vision is being developed as part of a European project that uses a sensor that employs a complicated digital imaging process known as ‘3D foveation’.

Current laser scanning technology means that robots sample everything in their field of vision equally.

‘This means an object that is uninteresting for the robot will be sampled as equally dense as the object the robot is interacting with,’ the technical leader of the project, Jens Thielemann, told The Engineer magazine.

‘For instance, in case of a robot navigating a hallway and trying to avoid obstacles, a normal laser scanner will spend the same amount of time sampling objects that are far away and pose no danger to the robot, as it will spend on those nearby that can pose more imminent danger.’

The project team will correct this problem by adapting the robot’s vision so it mimics the processes carried out by the human eye.

Mr Thielemann said: ‘The central part of the eye has high spatial resolution, whereas the peripheral part of the eye has low spatial resolution.

‘The peripheral part of the vision is used for detecting objects of interest due to colour, motion, edges, structure and used to move the fovea [the centre of the eye] towards the object of interest.’

Sophisticated new sensors will mimic this process by obtaining a coarse image of the scene and then uses computer software to work out which parts of the scene are of real interest to the robot.

The team believes this technology will mean that the robots will one day have a more human-like understanding of their surroundings.

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