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Dyson Pledges £5 Million Investment In UK Robotics

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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Money from Dyson will contribute towards formation of new robotics lab at London Imperial College

UK engineering company Dyson has announced a £5 million investment to fund the development of robotics technology at the Imperial College London.

The five-year deal, with an extra £3 million of funding matched from other sources, will pay for 15 scientists, including some of Dyson’s own engineers, and will set up a new robotics laboratory at the university headed up by the company’s founder James Dyson.

Research at the new facility will focus on the vision systems that can help robots understand and adapt to the world around them. It is hoped this work will lead to the development of more intelligent domestic robots as well as improved robotic vacuum cleaners.

“My generation believed the world would be overrun by robots by the year 2014,” said Dyson. “We now have the mechanical and electronic capabilities, but robots still lack understanding -seeing and thinking in the way we do.

“Mastering this will make our lives easier and lead to previously unthinkable technologies.”

Cleaning up

robot vacuum ©shutterstock Linda BucklinDyson has been investing into robotics research for the past 15 years, and nearly launched the DC06, a prototype robotic vacuum cleaner in 2001, but Sir James pulled the product saying it was too heavy and expensive.

The company has been working with Imperial College since 2005 to develop machines that use vision to logically navigate their surroundings. Heading up the university’s team is Professor Andrew Davison, currently head of robot vision at Imperial’s department of computing and an expert in Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) systems using a single camera.

“A truly intelligent domestic robot needs to complete complex everyday tasks while adapting to a constantly changing environment,” he said of the new facility. “We will research and develop systems that allow machines to both understand and perceive their surroundings – using vision to achieve it.”

In January, Dyson announced a £250 million investment to double the size of its research centre in Wiltshire and hire 3,000 more engineers, saying it had “drawn up a blueprint” for the largest expansion in its 20-year history.

The investment puts Dyson into direct competition with Google, which announced in December that it was building robots for internal operations under the leadership of Andy Rubin, formerly responsible for Android OS. The search engine giant had indicated it is particularly interested in this area, before announcing the acquisition of legendary DARPA robotics contractor Boston Dynamics as the latest addition to the unit, whose purpose is yet to be fully revealed.

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