The project aims to enable the creation of robots with a human-like ability to reason, behave and interact. It will also boost research in life sciences disciplines, such as neuroscience, by allowing researchers to run biologically realistic simulations to test theories.
By simulating information on the inner workings of the brain that could not otherwise be identified, the research could enhance understanding of neurodevelopmental and learning disorders and lead to new treatments.
The Sheffield Hallam team of researchers is led by Professor Alessandro Di Nuovo.
Professor Alessandro Di Nuovo said: “The project's ambition is to create a developmental artificial mind for robots that can grow up like a child - autonomously learning and developing new skills via multimodal interaction with humans and the environment.
“In particular, we will be using neuromorphic computing hardware that mimics the neurobiological architectures present in the human brains and nervous system. These will allow to build innovative models of cognitive abilities for robots that are more energy efficient.
“Importantly, the new developmental neuromorphic models will be a powerful tool for increasing the research capacity in life sciences, like developmental psychology and neuroscience. Researchers will be able to use the models to gain information and progress our understanding of human learning and intelligence.”
Professor Di Nuovo’s project was ranked second by the AI and Data Science Panel and was one of only 11 to have been funded by the panel. The Sheffield Hallam project is also the only one from a post-92 university to have received funding.
The funding will support investigators’ time, a post-doc and a PhD student to work on the project and the purchase of innovative neuromorphic touch sensors for the project's robots.
Other projects to have received funding include storing energy in the soil, using seawater to water crops and developing new tools to warn against rockfalls and landslides. The £15 million investment is from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of UKRI. Each project focuses on high risk, speculative engineering or information and communication technologies research with a potentially transformative impact.
Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of the EPSRC, said: “The adventurous thinking displayed in these new projects underlines the ingenuity and imagination of our research base, taking novel approaches to tackle major challenges. The discovery-led science we support is at the heart of the research and innovation ecosystem. Engineering and physical sciences underpins and advances research across all disciplines, catalysing the breakthroughs and technologies that deliver benefits and prosperity for all of society.”