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Touchscreen tortoises lead scientific research

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.

Victoria Whittam reports:

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Tortoises learn to use touchscreen

Researchers at the University of Lincoln have trained tortoises to use touchscreens as part of a study to test the animals' intelligence.

The reptiles were given a choice of shapes on a screen and managed to work out how to win a strawberry by pressing a blue circle on screen. Watch them in action:

Researcher Dr Anna Wilkinson explains why the tortoises are willing to perform:


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Touchscreen tortoises studied by Lincoln academic

Tortoises have been the subject of a study led by a University of Lincoln academic.

The reptiles were monitored to test their navigational skills and managed to work out how to win a strawberry by pressing the screen.

A red triangle on the screen was followed by two blue circles. The tortoises were trained to press either the left or right circle to get a strawberry.

Dr Anna Wilkinson found that when food was given to the tortoises in two blue bowls, similar to the circles, the tortoises went for the food on the same side as the circle they were trained to press.


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Meet Linda - the trainee security guard of the future

Linda the robot at the University of Lincoln Credit: ITV News Calendar

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.

Linda the robot patrolling an empty science lab Credit: ITV News Calendar

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.

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Robots will learn to 'develop a common-sense attitude'

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
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Service robots could work as care assistants

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
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