The inventor and designer, Sir James Dyson, appears to be at war with the mighty Internet giant Google, by investing £5m in a London university for the development of a new generation of “intelligent domestic robots”.

Dyson’s company is best known for its vacuum cleaners, but they are putting money into a new laboratory at Imperial College London, which has already begun the hiring process of up to 15 scientists, who will work on the development of robot vision systems that may be used in devices such as robot-controlled vacuums.  Apparently this is a longstanding ambition of Dyson. He said the plan was to create “practical everyday technologies that will make our lives easier”.

This move may put Dyson in a position where it could directly challenge the technological prowess of Google, which has recently acquired not one, but eight robotics companies, including the company behind the US militarised, self-controlling robots; Boston Dynamics.

Let Battle Commence!

In January Google announced they had acquired DeepMind Technologies for $400 Million.  The company is a London-based startup that has a focus on A.I. (artificial intelligence).

“It seems a pity to me to sell out, as I don’t quite understand the urge to give up…Long-term thinking is essential to new technology. We should be encouraging UK companies to invest in R&D and take on armies of engineers so that they can grow and become UK world-beaters,” Dyson told British newspaper, The Guardian.

Sir James Dyson established his company nearly 30 years ago, back in 1985.  The company now employs over 3000 people globally and in the 2012 financial year, had a turnover of £1.1bn.

Prof. Andrew Davison is the leader of the new Dyson project inside Imperial College.  He said he would be working on “perception and computer vision technology, with the goal of developing a new type of robot that can move beyond controlled locations such as factories, and into a wide range of applications and products in the home, and difficult environments.”  Dyson himself is known to have been working for nearly the past ten years, on a robot vacuum cleaner at the company headquarters in Malmesbury, UK.  It is understood however, that he has been frustrated with prototypes’ battery life, and the failure to navigate around a typical home with obstacles such as tables.

Prof. Davison developed a breakthrough computing method which can carry out “simultaneous localisation and mapping”, known as SLAM, to create a 3D map of a space with one camera (previous systems have required at least two cameras). “Professor Davison was the first to use vision as the only sensor on a robot…Vision is key to creating a robot that can see and think in the way that humans do. Combining Dyson expertise in motors, electronics and artificial intelligence we hope to create a new generation of intelligent domestic robots.” Dyson said.

Davison said that Google’s acquisition of robotics firms is “closer to our interests in making practical robots that can move around and demonstrate real capability…But the whole area of mass-market robotics has yet to be defined.”  Dyson said: “I’ve no idea what companies Google intend to buy. Dyson aren’t about to launch a car or a search engine. We are focused on developing technology for domestic robots for the home that logically navigate their surroundings.”  Let the robot wars commence!

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