Cybernetics Research Group
Cybernetics research at the University of Reading can be considered in three interwoven themes. Neurodynamics and cognition, measurement and control, and human interaction. As such research tends to focus on the core concepts of cybernetics in animal and machines, although members of the group have ongoing interests in all areas of the field including art, government, business, education, economics and management. The group also has two specialist units (Infrared Multilayer Filters Laboratory, and the Visualisation and Interactive Technologies Centre) as well as strong links with other research at the University of Reading in particular the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics.
Cybernetics research has a high international profile, and welcomes research students and visitors from across the world. The group has also attracted a high level of global media interest in all areas of research.
Neurodynamics and cognition
The neurodynamics and cognition theme is interested in how the brain works, especially when it is able to operate in a real environment. We have pioneering research into human-computer implant technology, utilising direct connections to the nervous system. Recent media attention was on the 'ratbrain' project where research was closing the loop on neural tissues using an embodied mobile robot. Earlier work on learning using small mobile robots (the seven dwarfs) became a successful spin out kit robot, the Cybot (in collaboration with Eaglemoss Publications). The work has been featured in several London Science Museum robotics exhibition. We are working extensively with collaborators in the Centre for Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN) on analysis techniques for brain derived signals (EEG, EMG and MRI).
Measurement, control and computation
Measurement, control and computation is the heart of cybernetics. Control research has used intelligent search methods and optimal control techniques to identify efficient interplanetary missions. Control techniques have also been applied to electrical power systems, robotics, and renewable energy.
Measurement is the link between the automated and the biological world. We use terahertz spectroscopy to probe and reveal fundamental biological processes that will underpin the next generation of pharmaceutical development. We are also researching the impact of Terahertz radiation at the cellular level. Terahertz radiation is in addition being used in the School to indentify the presence of and image hidden mural paintings. This work is in collaboration with the Palais du Louvre in Paris.
We are exploring new mathematical techniques for computation, in particular a mathematically robust way of handling the consequence of calculations such as 0/0.
Human machine interaction
Understanding the human is key to understanding human machine interaction and research is on going on designing human-machine interaction environments that are intuitive, adaptable and natural. We are interested in technologies to support older adults and people with disabilities, and are involved in interdisciplinary projects on assessing nutrition and frailty in older adults, and on technologies to support speech and cognitive therapy after brain injury. We are also developing technologies to provide help and support for people in tackling drug and/or alcohol misuse we are key partners on a UK research initiative on disability and ageing. Interface research also includes haptic interface research where we can emulate contact with virtual environments. One practical consequences of this research is a new method of teaching skills to dental students so they can get a much higher intensity of training than afforded by current teaching methods.
Practical Turing tests
With unparalleled expertise in Turing's imitation game the School of Systems Engineering team (including Dr Ian Bland and C.D. Chapman), aided with a real-time communications protocol developed by Marc Allen (Bank of America/Merrill Lynch), have carried out over 250 Turing tests staging both scenarios Turing himself described in his ground-breaking paper on machine thinking and measurement by human comparison. This research leads into robot law and cybercrime prevention.
Non-linear Control with Application in Rehabilitation Engineering
Work in this area is mainly focused on the following three topics:
- Boolean input systems: these are a sub-class of hybrid systems of a single model and are found in applications such as power converter of hydraulic systems. the problem of interest is to control hybrid systems by minimising the number switching (resulting in energy saving).
- Control of Hamiltonian systems (motivated by mechanical models with negligible lift or drag affects): the approach here is to work in a coordinate free/global framework and to develop controls based on the global structure of the Hamilton system. The main interest is on path plannning with minimisation of energy while in motion.
- Rehabilitation engineering: this deals with the use of electrical stimulation to activate paralysed trunk muscles. The goal is to improve trunk balance control in paragraplegic subjects, who are unable to voluntarily activate the muslces of the lower part of their body due to an injury of the spinal cord. The external electrical signal will be modulated using strategies based on a mathematical model of the human torso, which is currently being developed.
Visualisation and Interactive Technology Centre
Projects have included visualising large built environments, immersive medical training, using immersive visualisation to study shopping behaviours, visualising complex data sets including MRI images.
Infrared Multilayer Laboratory
Infrared optical interference filters are key components vital to the successful operation of the world's most advanced planetary exploration probes and Earth remote-sensing satellites. They are used to separate incoming radiation into wavebands that measure temperature, noxious greenhouse gases, dust and water vapour in atmospheric monitoring. They are also used to detect faint planets orbiting stars external to our solar system. The design and fabrication of these coatings is a research activity that contributes filters to many ESA and NASA space-based programmes that investigate the temperature and chemistry of planetary atmospheres. This research aims to achieve the highest optical performance sensitivity and durability to withstand the robust environments in the next generation of advanced space-flight satellite and telescope instruments.
Further information can be found at www.reading.ac.uk/infrared