Scientists at the University of Lincoln have discovered the reptiles are really rather quick on the uptake in groundbreaking research using the kind of touch screen technology we are all accustomed to.
They might be on the slow side and give a rather ponderous appearance, but it seems the humble tortoise is actually something of a whizz when it comes to learning new skills.
One of the researchers who is programming 'Linda', a new robot that could work alongside security guards, says she travels around buildings observing things and learning what happens when. Tom Krajnik is fine tuning her settings to accurately issue warnings if security may have been breached:
The scientist in charge of a project to develop the software to control robots to work alongside humans in security or care home situations says the devices learn about their surroundings. Professor Tom Duckett explains how the robots build up a picture of the buildings they are operating inside:
This is Linda. She is training to become a security guard. The robot is being developed at the University of Lincoln to patrol offices and other buildings looking for any items or people that are out of place. She can then be programmed to call a human security guard to check out the intruder.
Scientists who are developing the software that enables Linda to 'learn' about her environment, including what people do in each room and when, say she will not replace traditional security guards. Instead she is designed to work alongside the human staff to make more detailed checks on rooms.
The main idea is to deploy robots that run for a long time so they have the chance to develop a common-sense attitude on how the world should be and be able to spot the deviations. The robots are curious to learn about the environment - they will see if something has changed and whether that's a one-off or a regular occurrence. Our robots will be active for long periods in dynamic and changing environments.
Currently industry robots can run for 24 hours a day and are incredibly reliable in well-controlled environments, but they don't use long-term experience to adjust or improve in any way. Cognitive robotics systems can learn and adapt, but most are used for just one experiment. We want to build a bridge between the two by creating robots that can run for long periods of time and also make use of life-long learning capabilities to adapt to the needs of different users.
– Dr Marc Hanheide, University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science
The idea is to create service robots that will work with people and learn from long-term experiences. What's unusual about any environment depends on the context. In a security scenario a robot will be required to perform regular patrols and continually inspect its surroundings for variations from its normal experiences.
Certain changes such as finding a person in a restricted area may indicate a security violation or a burglary. In a care home a robot will be required to act as an assistant for elderly patients, fetching and carrying things while also being alert to incidents such as people falling over.
It's not just about developing a care home or security guard robot. We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long-term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time. The technology will have many possible applications.
– Dr Tom Duckett, University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science
The University of Lincoln is part of the team working to create intelligent mobile robots. The £7.2 million project involves security company G4S Technology Ltd and Austrian care home provider, the Academy of Ageing Research, where the technology developed during the scheme will be tested.