Software could allow humans to 'talk' to robots

Researchers are developing software which could help engineers talk directly to robots, opening up possibilities for greater human interaction with all manner of devices.

University of Aberdeen researchers, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), are initially looking at how software systems could benefit industrial applications.

Robotics is becoming an increasingly integral part of many manufacturing process, and companies such as Foxconn are planning to massively increase the use of machines instead of human employees. This week the European Commission announced the launch of an initiative to grab a greater share of a market worth €15.5 billion annually it said.

According to the researchers there are problems with use of robots currently.  Although autonomously operating systems can process huge amounts of information at high speeds, when mistakes are made they are not always obvious either to the machine or to a human.

The team at Aberdeen says that within three years it hopes to have a new generation of autonomous systems able to carry out efficient “two-way communication with humans”.  This will allow quicker understanding of any problems, increasing the confidence in automated systems.

The new systems will use technology called Natural Language Generation (NLG) to allow humans to communicate with robots, translating complex data into simple text.

Using a keyboard the human controller can then conduct further interrogations of the computer system, and suggest changes to the robots actions.

According to one of the researchers, Dr Wamberto Vasconcelos, the potential of software that would allow greater interaction with machines is not limited to industrial processes.

Dr Vasconcelos says that the plan is to develop a new generation of computer systems that could support devices such as mobile phones, allowing interaction with humans in “useful ways, which up until now haven’t been explored”.