Sheffield displays the latest in robotics in Festival of the Mind

19 September 2014

The University of Sheffield is holding a unique series of lectures between 19-25 September, focusing on the latest advancements in robotics and what the future has in store. The New Age of Robotics lecture series forms part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind.

Alongside these lectures, two live exhibitions (Fri 26th and Sat 27th September) will demonstrate some of the technology currently being studied and developed by SCentRo (Sheffield Centre for Robotics).

Autonomous ‘quadcopters’ with the ability to follow volunteers, swarming robots that work together like ants, a therapeutic robotic seal which responds to touch and an expressive humanoid robot called Zeno (who plays Simon Says) will be among those on display. The live events will introduce some of this technology to the public for the very first time.

Robot Zeno
Zeno Robot Credit: University of Sheffield

Over the course of the lectures, experts in different areas will address subjects including the psychology of building human-like robots, the risks of killer robots, the potential of assistive robots, our fear of robots and the challenges of creating robots actually worth talking to.

The five lectures will be given by Professor Tony Prescott, Dr Lyuba Alboul, Professor Roger Moore, Professor Noel Sharkey (who took part in the TV programme Robots Wars), and Dr Michael Szollosy all from the University of Sheffield.

Several nations are developing robot weapons that could be delegated with the decision to kill us without much human involvement. On Friday September 19, Prof. Noel Sharkey from Robot Wars will show videos of the new weapons and explain what he and others are doing to stop them.

In the second lecture on Monday September 22, Professor Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield, will look at the psychology behind creating life-like robots, and what we can learn from robotics about what it means to be a person. Combining perspectives from psychology, philosophy and artificial intelligence, and using insights from research on robotics and virtual reality, Professor Prescott will address such questions as: what is the human self? could a robot have a self? and, do I need a body in order to have a self?

In the talk by Dr Lyuba Alboul (Tuesday 23rd September), several applications in robotics involving mixed human-robot teams will be presented. Among those: search and rescue, object/human/robot following, assistive robotics (robot as a guide 'dog'). In all of these applications humans work side by side with robots but what are the major challenges? The talk will be accompanied by demonstrations.

On Wednesday September 24, Professor Roger Moore will examine the technology that enables us to talk to machines which has been progressing in leaps and bounds. Recent years have seen a huge surge of interest in robotics, particularly robots with humanoid characteristics. So, when will these two technologies come together, and when will we be chatting to robots just as we chat to our friends and colleagues? Prof. Moore will engage in conversation about this topic, highlighting the major challenges that need to be overcome.

A swarm of Kilobots
A swarm of Kilobots. Photo credit: Simon Butler

In the final lecture on Thursday September 25, Dr Szollosy will explore how and why robots have so often been portrayed as monsters, with the likes of Terminators, killer androids and genocidal cyborgs. This lecture will look back at the historical origins of robots and the anxieties that they come to represent in our mythologies. Robots form part of a long tradition of monsters, revealing a great deal about our fears of our own technological prowess, and what is happening to the very idea of the 'human' in a rationalist, scientific, mechanical age.

The 11-day long Festival of the Mind (18-28 September 2014) will see the University of Sheffield team its leading academics with the UK’s most famous artists and musicians in order to bring academia to the streets.

The New Age of Robotics lectures will all take place at the Festival of the Mind’s Spiegeltent in Barker’s Pool, Sheffield (4-5pm). The live exhibition of robots will be open to the public on the following days:

  • Friday 27 September during Researchers’ Night (5-8pm) Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, University campus
  • Saturday 28 September (2-4pm) Spiegeltent, Barker's Pool, Sheffield city centre

For further information and the full programme, visit:

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