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Massey University In Robot Research Exchange

Massey Joins Forces With Singapore To Research Robots

Imagine this: your car books itself in for a service at a time to suit you while the coffee machine brews a cup to your own personal taste, and the toaster makes a fresh piece of toast as you sit down to breakfast. The stuff of science fiction?

Not according to Massey University scientists undertaking an Asia 2000 Foundation-funded project to develop micro-robots for home, business and industry.

Massey's Dr Chris Messom from the Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences in Albany and Professor Serge Demidenko at the Institute of Information Sciences and Technology in Palmerston North are working on the project.

Over the next two years students and staff from Massey and Singapore Polytechnic will research the internationally competitive field of "intelligent systems".

Their joint research is expected to develop a new generation of micro-robots. Asia 2000 is contributing to the project under its Higher Education Exchange Programme that encourages New Zealand tertiary institutions to form formal relationships with Asian counterparts. Four students and a staff member from Singapore Polytechnic will spend two months working at Albany with Dr Messom and his team and at Palmerston North with Professor Demidenko.

This will be followed by a similar Massey expedition to Singapore in January and February 2002.

Dr Messom says four engineering students will be chosen during the year to go to Singapore and they are likely to come back with a prototype design for reliable, fault-tolerant robotics.

"Massey brings basically the theoretical and software expertise and aspects to the project while Singapore brings a lot of hardware investment, micro electronics and robotics," explains Dr Messom.

"Historically the institutions have a good collaborative relationship with Singapore's years of investment in high technology and New Zealand's creativity and inventiveness providing a potent mix that will be exploited over the next two years of working together."

Professor Demidenko is regarded as a world expert in fault tolerant and self test systems which underpin reliable robotic systems.

He says the project's two-fold aim is to make progress in research on intelligent devices by bringing top notch methods into play while producing the social interactions of student exchange.

"Together, students will research not just robots but ones resistant to errors, faults and damage which has not been done at Massey before. Part of the programme is image recognition and processing which is essential for putting robots into real world applications," says Professor Demidenko.

"Once we develop this control method we want to implement them as integrated circuits. The design will be completed by Massey and manufactured by a partner company in the US with which Massey already has an agreement."

Dr Messom says the project is expected to reach the level of industrial prototype development after two years.

The development of mobile intelligent robots means a host of futuristic gadgets for the household -- from robot vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers to mobile home security systems -- and more intelligent devices in the workplace to increase office and factory automation.

"If we are talking about them being household items we are looking at five to ten years away."

The design component which is the highest value-added component is likely to stay in New Zealand.

"It is part of the push for high technology business and industries in the New Zealand economy."

"Highly reliable mobile mechatronic systems, such as micro-robots, is an area of intense international competition," said Dr Messom.

"The trend in continuing research into these intelligent devices is to wirelessly network them using custom integrated circuits, based on communication platforms such as your mobile telephone.

"Future development lies in networking small intelligent devices so that the combined system is more useful and valuable than the individual parts. One intelligent device networked is not much use. However, once everything is networked including your car, coffee machine and toaster, life will be a lot different," he said.

Singapore Polytechnic is that country's oldest and biggest technical educational institute and specialises in micro-electronics, telecommunications, computer engineering, digital signal processing, mechatronics, robotics and control.

"Expanded links with that centre will give our staff and students access to its first-class research facilities and equipment," Dr Messom said. For further information: Professor Serge Demidenko, phone (06) 356 9099 ext 2457 Dr Chris Messom, phone (09) 443 9799 ext 9255

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