'We will explore the extent to which robots will become part of society'

October 20, 2006

Alan Winfield is enlisting the help of three metal 'friends' to raise the profile of science and engineering

When Alan Winfield walks into the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London next week, he will take part in what has been billed as "possibly the largest ever gathering of humans and robots". The Walking with Robots programme, backed by three years of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, aims to engage the public with cutting-edge robotics research. It will run a series of events to highlight the prospect of intelligent robots playing an increasing role in society.

Monday's opening event requires researchers to bring a robot "friend". Professor Winfield, who is leading the project, will be accompanied by three metal companions - Eva, Whiskerbot and Ecobot.

He said: "Partly, it's about raising the public profile of science and engineering. But we also want to explore longer term questions about the extent to which intelligent robots will become a part of society. We will begin by looking at some of the moral and ethical questions that raises."

Professor Winfield, who is Hewlett Packard professor of engineering and associate dean for research in computing, engineering and maths at the University of the West of England, co-founded the Intelligent Autonomous Systems Laboratory at UWE in 1993.

He loves robotics because it is "fantastically multidisciplinary". His team specialises in "biological robotics", which takes inspiration from nature for robot design and artificial intelligence, working with biologists, animal behaviourists, neuro-scientists and psychologists.

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