26 July 2006

UQ scientists will use a $3.3 million grant to build a new generation of robots that can learn about their physical spaces based on animal navigation skills.

The UQ led team received one of three Thinking Systems grants announced by the Federal Government on Monday.

The team will study the navigation skills of bees, rodents and humans as a way of understanding the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls navigation.

“One thing that makes us special as humans is that we might be using this part of the brain not just to map physical space, which we do very effectively, but also to map the space of ideas,” Team Leader and UQ cognitive scientist Professor Janet Wiles said.

Professor Wiles said the results would then be transferred into computer models to map ideas.

“Suppose you want Hansard records — you’ve got gigabytes of information and what you want is a summary of who spoke on which issue in a particular debate.

“You can either spend three months reading the document or you can create a map of who spoke and the relationships between it.”

She said her team would use the models to make a thinking robot that could find its way to a given point and navigate back again.

The research will also generate new insights into how the brain works the diagnosis and treatment of mental dysfunctions.

“The study will look at how information is transmitted, received, processed and understood in biological and artificial systems,” she said.

Professor David Siddle, UQ’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) said he was delighted such an imaginative program of research had been funded.

“The work represented in this proposal is truly inter-disciplinary and this is where significant scientific advances are now being made,” Professor Siddle said.

Professor Wiles is from the Division of Complex & Intelligent Systems with UQ’s School of Information Technology & Electrical Engineering.

Four of the Queensland Brain Institute’s most senior scientists will also work on the project.

They are: Professor Perry Bartlett, Professor Jason Mattingley, Professor Pankaj Sah and Associate Professor Geoffrey Goodhill.

MEDIA: Professor Wiles (07 3365 2902) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (3365 2619)