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University of Essex put latest #drone technology to the test

09 Nov University of Essex put latest #drone technology to the test

The next generation of drone and robot technology will be put to the test in a new robotic games laboratory at the University of Essex.

One of the largest labs of its kind in the UK, the laboratory has the technology to track drones and robots at high speed with high accuracy, using competitive games to test a wide range of robotic artificial intelligence (AI) challenges.

Professor Simon Lucas, Head of the University’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (CSEE), said: “The aim of the lab is to apply the best ideas in artificial intelligence to real world robotics control and intelligence problems. Games offer an ideal way to do this due to their competitive and dynamic nature, and the way they generate human interest.”

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University, the lab offers a robotic car racing challenge, with competitors able to program the cars via a software interface, using either accurate car positions from the lab’s high-speed tracking system, or the vision feed from the on-board cameras. It is also possible to race the AI against human drivers. There are also plans to run some international AI competitions using this platform.

Equipped with the latest Vicon infrared tracking system, the robot lab has 26 compact, high quality cameras which monitor the drones at up to 250 times a second, making them more controllable at high speed.

The lab also offers cloud robotics technology, meaning the Essex lab can be used by researchers anywhere in the world as they can control the tracking system remotely to test their technology.

This new lab offers a bigger usable space than the University’s other robotics arena, allowing for more flexibility for different types of high-speed tracking research.

Senior research officer Ian Dukes explained that the lab meant scientists could put their mathematical modelling to the test in the real world to see how they can make drones and robots perform better at high speed.

“Most people see the drone, but I see the code that runs the drone,” explained Ian. “This lab is the perfect arena to test this type of technology. The tracking system we have is like an indoor GPS system, scaling the real world down to the size of a lab.”

By testing the accuracy of new drone technology this lab will help the future control structures of drones so they are smarter and more efficient.

Essex has expertise in a diverse range of robotics and has the vision to always be looking at new ways of making technology work for us in the future. The University has recently launched a new BEng Robotic Engineering course to train the robot experts of the future.