US to develop smart machines with visual intelligence

DARPA’s Mind’s Eye program will let machines see and act

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is set to develop a system that will let machines or robots have 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 underpinnings for recognizing and reasoning about the actions it sees and report or act upon it. 

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Humans in particular perform a wide range of visual tasks with ease, which no current artificial intelligence can do in a robust way, DARPA stated. Humans have inherently strong spatial judgment and are able to learn new spatiotemporal concepts directly from the visual experience. Humans can visualize scenes and objects, as well as the actions involving those objects and can manipulate those imagined scenes mentally to solve problems, 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." 

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DARPA is in fact building such a perch-and- stare beast.  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 (SP2S), 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 (ACIP) 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. 

Another ACIP project is artificial intelligence software known as a Machine Reading Program (MRP) that can capture knowledge from naturally occurring text and transform it into the formal representations used by AI reasoning systems. The idea is that such an intelligent learning system would unleash a wide variety of new AI applications - military and civilian -- ranging from intelligent bots to personal tutors according to DARPA. 

In other robot-enhancing activities intelligent robot vendor iRobot last year licensed Laser Radar or Ladar technology for use in its line of military robots, a move that could result in a new line of machines that can see and operate more effectively in dangerous situations.  Such small, advanced robots could be deployed in less than a year, experts said. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8

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