How drones and autonomous robots are enhanced by AI to improve their performance

By Ray Cheung Chak-chung, Associate Professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering, City University of Hong Kong

Path finding, collision avoidance and critical thinking features are just some of the ways the field of robotics is being improved

By Ray Cheung Chak-chung, Associate Professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering, City University of Hong Kong |

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Autonomous underwater vehicles can move underwater by themselves, or be guided by remote controls.

Robots can perform many different operations, and increasingly they can do them completely by themselves. While most still cannot do everything independently, they have some degree of autonomy.

Drones, for example, can fly around mostly by themselves. Robots with customised logic such as the household cleaning i-Robot can sweep the floor with a pre-programmed movement pattern, and then move back to the charging station.

The same goes for underwater vehicles, such as the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). An AUV can carry out a specific mission without human intervention. Once the task has been completed, it will go back to a designated port. But an experienced human operator is required to operate a ROV’s cameras, sonar systems and robotic arms for the sake of safety.

Typical work applications for the AUV and ROV include operations at oil and marine installations, security and defence assignments, and general underwater research.

If you wish to position an AUV at a certain location under the ocean or near the seashore, you will need an Autonomous Surface Vessel (ASV). An ASV is able to find clear paths and avoid collisions using 3D Light Detection and Ranging for close range, radar for long range, an antenna for seamless communications, a GPS system, and a powerful battery for non-stop operation.

Underwater robots can also be used to help the police. University students in Singapore have developed an AUV to search for bodies in a river. Once a missing body has been found, divers can be deployed.

But how does the AUV see in a dark, muddy waterway? How does it calculate the distance between itself and the body? Information is collected from multiple sensory systems. Also, autonomous robots are being further enhanced by artificial intelligence, along with the addition of critical thinking features to the decision-making process.

All this may sound confusing if you have never studied robotics. But in the future, we will see more autonomous vehicles on the road, in the sea and over the sky. It will be important for us to be informed about this type of technology.

That’s why I recommend that secondary school students take part in regional and international robot competitions. Then you can discover more ways to assemble, programme and operate different kinds of robots.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge