Nexter joins robot development business

Jan. 16, 2013 at 2:59 PM
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VERSAILLES, France, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Robots are playing critical roles on the battlefield and are growing in diversity, capability and manufacture.

The United States has so far led the way in robotic technology and systems for ordnance detection and disposal, convoy vehicles and ground reconnaissance and surveillance for small infantry units.

But others are getting in the game and now Nexter Systems, the French defense group, has formed a wholly owned subsidiary dedicated to robotic technology.

Nexter Robotics was created to develop and produce new solutions for the robotic needs of the French military and allies, especially in the area of small-scale robots capable of performing reconnaissance missions and route clearance activities to counter improvised explosive devices.

Nexter said its products will also be suitable for use by civilian security organizations.

"Both in France and abroad, working directly with customers and through its network of partners, Nexter Robotics is primarily focusing its activities on design, development, industrialization, production, commercialization and technical support for both land-based and air/land hybrid robotic systems, together with all the associated components and mission modules," the company said.

Nexter Systems introduced a counter-IED robotic system last year called the Nerva LG. Few details are available on the system, which is the lead-off item in its robotic products, but said it will be demonstrated at the IDEX 2013 defense exhibition in the United Arab Emirates later this year.

Meanwhile, the United States is tackling a major advancement in robot technology, which so far generally features remote pilot or operator control of the robotic system.

The U.S. Army reports that researchers from the Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate are developing "cognitive" robotic intelligence.

The ultimate aim is to develop highly capable robotic systems with "a set of intelligence-based capabilities sufficient to enable the teaming of autonomous systems with soldiers."

The robots envisaged would apply "reason" to performing their missions, observe events around them and communicate with troops and other autonomous systems.

The researchers are working with the Symbolic and Sub-Symbolic Robotics Intelligence Control System, developed by HRED in 2004 with Towson State University in Maryland to achieve that goal.

The Army said the system combines symbolic and sub-symbolic representations of knowledge into a unified control and cognitive architecture -- the Adaptive Character of Thought-Rational, or ACT-R, and Soar -- from the University of Michigan.

"We have found that in order to simulate complex cognition on a robot, many aspects of cognition (long-term memory and perception) needed to be in place before any generalized intelligent behavior can be produced," said Troy Kelley, cognitive robotics team leader of HRED. "In working with ACT-R, we found that it was a good instantiation of working memory, but that we needed to add other aspects of cognition including long-term memory and perception ... ."

The Army noted that robot cognition is a result of a collection of different algorithms which together produce the integrated process of cognition, or functionalist representation. HRED is developing a Symbolic and Sub-Symbolic Robotics Intelligence Control System that will be modular, with each group of algorithms having different responsibilities for the functioning of the overall system.

"We are not necessarily attempting to produce a neurological representation of the individual components of the brain," Kelley said. "The basic idea is that we are trying to use psychological theory to augment robotics development, especially in areas of learning and memory."

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