Ulrich Nehmzow, 1961-2010

May 20, 2010

A renowned expert on robot design who pursued "the age-old dream" of building an intelligent "living" machine has died.

Ulrich Nehmzow was born in Kulmbach, Germany on 18 September 1961 and educated in Hamburg and then at the Technical University of Munich. Even at school he impressed teachers and classmates by creating a mobile mechanical toy controlled by a light sensor.

For postgraduate study, Professor Nehmzow moved to the University of Edinburgh. He was to remain in the UK for his whole career, apart from a year's sabbatical at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

A post at the University of Manchester was followed by a senior lectureship in computer science at the University of Essex and finally, from 2008, a professorship in cognitive robotics at the University of Ulster.

Here, Professor Nehmzow led a major multidisciplinary team at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) in Londonderry. This brought together psychologists and neuroscientists, engineers and computer scientists, to study how robots can detect change, learn from experience and interact with their environment and human beings.

Along with such hands-on experimental work in robotics, Professor Nehmzow helped found the annual TAROS (Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems) conferences, held at the ISRC in 2009.

He was also a powerful communicator who wrote more than 150 journal and conference papers and three major student texts. Mobile Robotics: A Practical Introduction (2000) argued that "autonomous mobile robots are the closest approximation yet of intelligent agents, the age-old dream of building machines that mimic living beings". It was followed by Scientific Methods in Mobile Robotics: Quantitative Analysis of Agent Behaviour (2006) and Robot Behaviour: Design, Description, Analysis and Modelling (2009).

In the last of these, Professor Nehmzow suggests that we are living a world that needs "more and more robot hardware and robot software" - for science and industry, for healthcare and even for entertainment. Yet we lack an "unambiguous, measurable" language for defining what we want. The book sets out to supply greater clarity to "advance robotics from its current state".

Martin McGinnity, director of the ISRC, remembered Professor Nehmzow as "a great motivator" and a man of "almost unlimited energy and enthusiasm for his research. He achieved so much in his relatively short time with us, and carried his illness with great dignity and humour."

Professor Nehmzow died of cancer on 15 April 2010 and is survived by his wife Claudia and daughter Henrietta.


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