New informatics centre in Edinburgh officially opened

Thursday 4th September 2008
Edinburgh Informatics Western facade.Courtesy: Photos © Adrian Welch

A new informatics centre in Scotland put a humanoid robot through its paces and Edinburgh University's Informatics Forum rated it as able to be transformed into a futuristic worker at which believes that the "mini man machine" - standing just over a foot high - could be developed into a robotic carer for Scotland's ageing population, or even a firefighter. No news on the Sensopac development which has four months to run.

Scientists demonstrated its ability to walk and do press-ups for First Minister Alex Salmond, as he opened the flagship centre for informatics in the capital. The robotic hand prosthesis, being developed by university experts in collaboration with Touch Bionics was also on display.

But no news as yet on the European Sensopac development of the biomimetic arm equipped with a high degree of intelligence, where scientists at the University of Edinburgh, and at Lund University, in Sweden, have decided the best approach was to model the human cerebellum. 

Researchers are currently using software to simulate important aspects of how the cerebellum processes and integrates information. "It's the first neural-network-based controller that can control the dynamics of a robotic system in its full operational range." 

Now two months into the remit of six, they will be discovering how well the system can learn to control the arm. The ultimate goal is to create a microchip that will allow the arm to carry out tasks requiring human-level skills in a real-world setting.

The £42m centre will provide a base for around 500 scientists to carry out world-leading work in areas such as virtual reality, robotics and e-science - and to turn developments into commercial successes, but  was accorded little press coverage to inspire potential young livewires.

Salmond said: "I am delighted to officially open this new centre of excellence. It will advance Scotland and the University of Edinburgh's position as a world leader in the new science of informatics and it will also have enormous benefits to both industry and commerce."

The forum was financed by the Scottish Government, the Wolfson Foundation and university alumni among others. It also received funding from Scottish Enterprise.


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