Smart home with control panel on wall

Present homes and future habitats: intelligent machines in houses and space

Who knows if humans will ever live on the moon or other planets. But as semi-autonomous rovers explore Mars and soon the lunar landscape and satellites of other planets, their increasing sophistication is bringing benefits here on Earth because the same technology can be utilised in our homes.

Across the world - and not just in developed countries - people are living longer lives, and researchers at the University of Liverpool are helping to develop intelligent domestic robots that are set to make our twilight years safer, more comfortable, and healthier.

The intelligent machines in our homes

It’s not all about older people talking to humanoid machines for companionship. This is a longer-term goal that will work for some people, not everyone. Already inside our homes are the first generation of voice activated computers, like speakers and smartphones, and as this Internet of Things matures and connects everything from our fridge to the TV, myriad opportunities open up for artificial intelligence to make our lives better. For instance, your fridge could tell you when food is about to go out of date, ask you about your next shopping trip, and help you connect with relatives for conversation. But the potential uses go much further.

“The idea to develop domestic robots that can help with tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and moving things around,” says Professor Michael Fisher from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Liverpool. “They could monitor a person’s health and activity from a distance, and to some extent provide some companionship. Maybe an intelligent computer that talks about what was on TV last night, or what the weather might be like tomorrow.”

Developing the computing standards

Fisher and colleagues at Liverpool specialise not in the making of arms, legs and microchips for machines, but in developing software that the hardware part will execute perfectly, according to the user’s instructions. “We’re involved in lots of UK and international computing standards, to define and verify exactly what the systems should be doing for full transparency,” says Fisher.

Although the domestic home might seem a world away from the surface of a planetary body, the principles behind reliability, safety and quality can be transferred across different autonomous robotics projects. Fisher and colleagues have adopted a modular approach, so the same high processes and standards used in their allied work on autonomous machines in space, the sea, and in nuclear power can be utilised in domestic dwellings.

Working in Partnership

The work answers one of the UK Government’s four Grand Challenges - how to use AI and data to better our present and future lives. To achieve it goals, Liverpool has also been working with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Sheffield under the Robosafe and Verifiable Autonomy projects, both funded through EPSRC.