Computing brainboxes believe they have found a method which would allow robotic systems to perceive the 3D world around them by analysing 2D images as the human brain does – which would, among other things, allow the affordable development of cars able to drive themselves safely.
The beauty of this new work is they designed a custom CPU using a Virtex 6 FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). FPGA for those who don’t know is a computer chip that you can ‘re-wire’ through software to take on mathematical task you can dream up. In the old days this would have required a custom chip to be engineered, validated and manufactured at great cost. FPGAs require development kits and FPGA chips you need to program. With this you can optimize every step within the computer processor and speed things up much more than a general purpose computer processor (like the Intel chip that powers your Windows or Mac computer). In this example of the research being done the custom designed computer circuitry is using video images to decide where in the world a robot can safely drive as it maneuvers around on the ground. I know Hans Moravec has done a lot with it at Carnegie Mellon U. And it seems that this group is from Yale’s engineering dept. which is encouraging to see the techniques embraced and extended by another U.S. university. The low power of this processor and it’s facility for processing the video images in real-time is ahead of its time and hopefully will find some commercial application either in robotics or automotive safety controls. As for me I’m still hoping for a robot chauffeur.