Chengyu Cao and his research team at the University of Connecticut are working on the kinds of advancements that science fiction writers have dreamed of for years: fully autonomous machines capable of "thinking" and navigating the hazards of their surroundings without human intervention.
The team has been laboring on "novel algorithms and sensor networks" that will allow their robotic machines to navigate their surroundings without any human help. On top of that, it looks like the researchers are taking a page from Mother Nature's own handbook with their attempts to devise complex control systems to function as a group, sort of like herd animals.
"Many of the unmanned vehicles in use today are piloted via remote control and require a lot of support staff and supporting equipment to work properly. Our research is intended to make autonomous unmanned systems reliable, safe, and adaptive to a wide range of environments and situations," Cao explained to Uconn Today.
If you think all this sounds rather fascinating, you're not the only one. The National Science Foundation's National Robotics Initiative (NRI) found Cao's research so impressive that it awarded his team with a four-year, $1.2 million grant to "develop a co-operative underwater robotic network" that could help with underwater search and rescue missions.
Of course, this isn't the only thing the team has been up to. According to Uconn Today, Cao's team has a high-end, remote-controlled Maxi Joker 3 helicopter that it rigged up to test the new control system, as well as a prototype underwater submersible named Perseus that it's using to see how well the control system works in aquatic environments.
Is it time to worry about how best to express subservience to our robot overlords? Probably not but don't be surprised if the next cab you hail comes without a human driver.