How can we create robots that can carry out important tasks in dangerous environments? Machine learning is supporting advances in the field of robotics. To find out more, we talked to Dr Rustam Stolkin, Royal Society Industry Fellow for Nuclear Robotics, Professor of Robotics at the University of Birmingham, and Director at A.R.M Robotics Ltd, about his work combining machine learning and robotics to create practical solutions to nuclear problems.
In studying the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, Yale sociologist Charles Perrow concluded that conventional engineering approaches to ensuring safety – building-in more warnings and safeguards – will always fail in the face of increasing system complexity. He called the nuclear accident a "normal accident." Similarly, the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, the 2008 financial crisis and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 are, in fact, perfectly normal. We just don't know when or how a black swan will show up.
French people love to drive, but with private radar companies set to give out way more speeding tickets, they may be willing to let machines take the wheel. Luckily, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has teamed with a company called Transdev to develop a fleet of self-driving vehicles "for future public and on-demand transportation," it said in a press release. The project will kick off with autonomous field testing of Europe's most popular EV, the 250-mile-range Renault Zoe.
Across the globe, energy systems are changing, creating unprecedented challenges for the organisations tasked with ensuring the lights stay on. In the UK, large fossil fuelled power stations are being replaced by increasing levels of widely distributed wind and solar generation. This renewable power is clean and free at the point of use but it cannot always be relied upon. To date National Grid has managed this intermittency by keeping polluting power stations online to make up the difference but Artificial Intelligence offers an alternative approach.
"People love the wizards in Harry Potter or'Lord of the Rings,' but this is real," said Gary Bradski, a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence specialist and a co-founder of Industrial Perception Inc., a company that is building a robot able to load and unload trucks. "A new species, Robo sapiens, are emerging," he said.
Following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, Honda reportedly received numerous requests to send its humanoid robot ASIMO to help with the recovery. ASIMO, however, wasn't designed to work outside a lab or office environment, let alone a highly radioactive rubble-strewn zone. Now it looks like Honda is working to address the problem by developing a bigger, beefed-up version of ASIMO that can walk, crawl, and perform tasks in a disaster environment.