Military set to develop smart, robotic cameras

DARPA has contracted with 15 teams to begin building programs that will let machines or robots have visual intelligence similar to humans.

In a move seemingly strait out of the Terminator movies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency this week said it has contracted with 15 companies or universities to begin building software and hardware that will give machines or robots visual intelligence similar to humans.

DARPA said the program, known as Mind's Eye, should generate the ability for machines to have the "perceptual and cognitive abilities for recognizing and reasoning about the actions it sees and report or act upon it."

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"Humans perform a wide range of visual tasks with ease, something no current artificial intelligence can do in a robust way. They have inherently strong spatial judgment and are able to learn new spatiotemporal concepts directly from the visual experience. Humans visualize scenes and objects, as well as the actions involving those objects and possess a powerful ability to manipulate those imagined scenes mentally to solve problems. A machine-based implementation of such abilities is broadly applicable to a wide range of applications, including ground surveillance," DARPA stated.

According to DARPA: "One of the desired military capabilities resulting from this new form of visual intelligence is a smart camera, with sufficient visual intelligence that it can report on activity in an area of observation. A camera with this kind of visual intelligence could be employed as a payload on a broad range of persistent stare surveillance platforms, from fixed surveillance systems, which would conceivably benefit from abundant computing power, to camera‐equipped perch‐and‐stare micro air vehicles, which would impose extreme limitations on payload size and available computing power."

DARPA is already building such a perch-and- stare machine.  Last year, unmanned aircraft maker AeroVironment got an additional $5.4 million from DARPA to further develop a small aircraft that can fly into tight spaces undetected, perch and send live surveillance information to its handlers. DARPA's Stealthy, Persistent, Perch and Stare Air Vehicle System, is being built on the company's one-pound, 29-inch wingspan battery-powered Wasp unmanned system.

DARPA is also funding a project that will develop software that will help merge the many data streams of robot sensors to improve their recognition of static objects, such as bomb components or helping the bots perform tasks such as opening doors and drawers.  In the second stage, the focus will shift to searching for objects that are able to move, from mobile weapon units to human targets.

Robotic intelligence is being developed under DARPA's Architectures for Cognitive Information Processing program. DARPA's cognitive computing research is developing technologies that will enable computer systems to learn, reason and apply knowledge gained through experience, and respond intelligently to new and unforeseen events.

For Mind's Eye, DARPA has contracted with 12 research teams to develop fundamental machine-based visual intelligence: Carnegie Mellon University, Co57 Systems, Inc., Colorado State University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/CALTECH, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, SRI International, State University of New York at Buffalo, TNO (Netherlands), University of Arizona, University of California Berkeley and University of Southern California. These teams will develop software for use in a smart camera that integrates existing state of the art computer vision and Artificial Intelligence with visual technology, DARPA stated.

DARPA also said it has contracted with General Dynamics Robotic Systems, iRobot and Toyon Research Corporation. These companies are working together to develop and integrate visual intelligence software onto a camera suitable as a payload on an unmanned ground vehicle, the agency stated.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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