Robots and humans could 'talk' via new software

Automated assembly line
Image caption Increasingly robots are being employed on assembly lines and elsewhere

Software that will allow robots to "talk" with people is being developed at the University of Aberdeen.

The code will be used to help robots complete tasks more efficiently and could pave the way for human-to-robot business meetings.

Robots now carry out tasks in a range of industries, from decommissioning nuclear plants to maintaining railway lines.

But without continuous human guidance mistakes can be made.

"Employed across a variety of sectors, these systems can quickly process huge amounts of information when deciding how to act," said Dr Wamberto Vasconcelos, who is leading the research at the University of Aberdeen's School of Natural and Computing Sciences.

"In doing so, they can make mistakes which are not obvious to them or to a human."

One of the main intentions of the project is to increase understanding between humans and automated systems

"We want to allow humans to be more trusting of robots by opening up a communication channel where the machine can explain to the human why they did what they did," said Dr Vasconcelos.

No shouting

"At the moment they just do their thing and humans hope and pray that they do the right thing but there is no room for robots to explain."

The system will combine what are called formal argumentation techniques with Natural Language Generation (NLG), which essentially converts complex information and data into text summaries.

"This is not about shouting at each other but offering reasons for an argument," explained Dr Vasconcelos.

It could ultimately led to human/robot business meetings.

"It enables the systems and a human to discuss a plan before a task - such as dismantling a nuclear plant - is undertaken," said Dr Vasconcelos.

The human will be able to interrogate the system, asking it to provide reasons for its actions or to offer additional information.

The project has received a £1.1m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the team hopes to have prototypes ready in a year.

Industrial partners on the project include Sellafield, the National Nuclear Laboratory, BAE Systems and Network Rail.

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