Spring 2018 PEG

World Watch

LATITUDE

GETTING ROBOTS TO BEHAVE LIKE HUMANS IS ONE THING—GETTING THEM TO BEHAVE LIKE INSECTS IS ANOTHER If it looks like an insect and it moves like an insect, it might be—a robot! That’s what a group of engineers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, would like you to come to terms with, someday. The engineers have succeeded in building robots that are insect-like in many ways, but behaviour has proved particularly challenging. Programming an insect robot to sense a gust of wind, for example, or land on a swaying flower, would require that it carry a desk-size computer on its back. The researchers are developing a new type of sensing and control algorithm that uses neuromorphic chips. They fire like the neurons in your brain, and they use much less power than traditional chips. This means you will never, ever see robot bees strapped to computer towers flying around your neighbourhood.

WHAT’S THAT BUZZ? Robots like this one may soon be better pollinators, thanks to the development of special computer chips and algorithms. -photo courtesy Yufeng Chen/Harvard SEAS

SIMULATED DRIVING TESTS ARE PART OF THE LICENSING JOURNEY IN CHINA Each year, about 30 million people in China obtain their driver’s licences. There’s nothing surprising about that, given the increasing wealth of the country and its massive population. But here’s something your average Canadian teenager never has to do: pass numerous tests on a driving simulator. It’s a legal requirement for learners in China. Mechanical engineering and computer expertise recently intersected to develop a more authentic virtual driving experience, says Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Because the simulator more closely mimics actual driving conditions, it should make Chinese roads safer. The result, using software developed through a China-Germany technology transfer, is a new driving simulator called DriveSim. It features a mid-sized car modified for virtual training and automatic feedback, with displays that produce a lifelike experience. Drivers feel and react to simulated road bumps and changes in acceleration. Changing driving environments like weather are replicated on a three-dimensional wall projection. A virtual instructor points out mistakes to help the driver learn from them. A real driving instructor then uses the information to design follow-up exercises tailored to individual needs.

SPRING 2018 PEG | 57

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