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Robots to gain eyes in the back of their heads


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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Researchers in the United States are developing robots with "eyes in the backs of their heads" in the form of nine digital cameras attached to a frame the size of a beach ball.

Providing a robot with "omni-directional" vision could vastly improve its navigational skills, the scientists said. A report on their work is in the latest edition of the New Scientist magazine.

The new "eye," named the Argus Eye after the all-seeing Greek god, passes the images to a computer which works out the direction in which the robot is pointing and heading.

While humans can rely on sensors in their ears to navigate themselves, many robots have to rely solely on their single eye.

But as computer scientists at the University of Maryland proved mathematically in 1998, if robots could see in all directions they would not need any other sensors.

One of the researchers, Cornelia Fermueller, said that if the Argus eye was further developed and mass produced it could bring down the cost of both industrial and domestic robots.

The ability to navigate was the lowest level of capability needed by a robot to work in an unknown environment, she said.

A study released this month by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe found that worldwide sales of robots designed for domestic chores and for home entertainment tripled in 2002, and were expected to beat sales of industrial robots for the first time in 2003.

The survey also found that entertainment robots sold three times better than those designed to carry out domestic chores like cleaning and mowing the lawn.

Luc Steels, a robot specialist at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory, told this week's New Scientist magazine that the purpose of entertainment robots was less defined, so they were less likely to fail or disappoint.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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