Interview

New Advances in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

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V S Mahalingam
Distinguished Scientist (DS) and Director
Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) DRDO, Ministry of Defence

Tell us about the work being done by CAIR.
The research focus of CAIR is in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and Control systems. Over the years CAIR has expanded its charter to include system development in the areas of tactical communication, command control, communication security, Information security and net-centric warfare. CAIR has further enhanced its domain to Geographical Information Systems, Neural-networks, Ad hoc Networks and Network Management to meet the user’s requirements.

Tell us about your solutions for homeland security and low intensity conflicts.

CAIR has developed lightweight portable robots which are specially suited for low intensity conflicts. These robots can be employed for reconnaissance and improving situational awareness while keeping the security personnel out of harm’s way. A wall-climbing prototype robot developed by CAIR, fitted with a manoeuvrable camera, can be made to climb external walls of a building and peek inside through windows. In order to carry out surveillance inside buildings, CAIR has developed a stair climbing robot equipped with multiple day/night cameras. An enhanced version of this robot is under development that will have additional features of explosive detection and non-lethal weapon launching. To sneak into areas with narrow access, a snake robot has been developed mimicking the movements of the biological counterpart for locomotion. For perimeter surveillance, a robot sentry has been developed which can patrol along designated path autonomously while relaying continuous video feed.

How critical is ICT in enabling the creation of an efficient robot?
I would like to define the efficiency of a robot in terms of its ease-of-use which can be facilitated by providing autonomy. ICT is an enabling technology for implementation of autonomy. Autonomy requires awareness of self and surroundings achieved through fusion of sensors and decision making capability achieved through onboard intelligence algorithms. Efficient information gathering combined with reasoning and cognitive capabilities help robots to adapt to changing situations and to user preferences resulting in user-friendly systems. The bottom line is that ICT is instrumental in allowing us to realise the full potential of a robotic system.

What are the ways by which ICT can be effective in fulfilling the needs of military organisations in future?
Military organisations depend highly on information for effective operations, logistic support and intelligence gathering. In present day scenario of information overload, ICT solutions enable efficient collection, collation and dissemination of useful data. This extracted information can support effective and efficient process for decision making.

People view robot intelligence as a frightening thing. How do you see that?
In my opinion, Robots taking over the human race and enslaving mankind is far from reality. Robots are machines capable of exhibiting behaviours programmed by the human designer. It will be difficult for machines, which came into existence a few decades ago to beat the products of nature which evolved over millions of years. It is unlikely that robots will possess human-like intelligence in the near future. In any case, the ultimate control will still reside with the human operators. The only frightening situation is the robot going out of control due to malfunction, like any other man-made machine. Hence, it is essential to build security interlocks in the system like any other sophisticated equipment.

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