Dyson and Imperial to develop next generation robots at new centre


Professor Davison and student

Enabling robots to work in the real world, through improved vision and computer processing power, will be the focus of a new collaboration.

Currently, robots do not have the ability to understand the ever changing challenges of a real world environment. This has meant that they have been confined to working in controlled environments such as on assembly lines in automotive plants, where they work within a strict set of parameters on a range of repetitive tasks.

The world could be moving towards a new era where robots for the house and business could be used to make our lives more efficient, cost effective and easier.

– Professor Andrew Davison

Director, Dyson Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London

Researchers at the Dyson Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London, a £5 million collaboration between the College and the manufacturer, will develop computer vision programs that will enable robots to move beyond these controlled environments and successfully navigate the real world. Developing robots that can process visual information in real-time could lead to a new range of handy and helpful robots for around the home and in industry.

The development of the Centre is part of Dyson’s plans to develop new robotic technology. It comes at a time when major technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft are buying up artificial intelligence and robotics companies in an effort to move toward the next generation of intelligent computing for the home and work.

Professor Andrew Davison, from the Department of Computing, is the Director of the new centre. He was one of the first researchers to develop robots that could map their surroundings using vision as their primary sensor, with standard video cameras providing real time awareness of the world.

Professor Davison says: “The world could be moving towards a new era where robots for the house and business could be used to make our lives more efficient, cost effective and easier. However, in order to get there we need to develop technologies that free up robots from the factory floor so that they can be used more effectively in our homes. We aim to attract some of the brightest minds to come and work with us at the centre to make this future a reality.”

Sir James Dyson said: “My generation believed that the world would be overrun by robots by the year 2014. We have the mechanical and software capabilities, but we still lack understanding – machines that see and think in the way that we do. Mastering this will make our lives easier and lead to previously unthinkable technologies.”

The researchers at the centre are working with Dyson to further develop affordable technology that will enable robots to take visual information, recorded by onboard cameras, and process it in real-time to map and then navigate the world.

The Imperial researchers have already carried out extensive laboratory research using computer vision technology to understand and model the real world in 3D. In particular, they have been demonstrating how low cost conventional video cameras and computers can be used just as effectively as expensive, specialist technology to generate 3D models of the world. 

Now, the team aim to improve this technology  so that a robot could not only determine the shape and layout of a room, but also distinguish between different objects and determine their purpose. For example, this could lead to robots being able to sort through dirty washing or clear a table without bumping into a human or dropping a plate. 

The first step for the researchers at the Centre will see them embarking on an international recruitment drive. The team are recruiting four ‘super post-doctorate’ posts, with recruits each receiving a globally competitive salary to carry out research at the centre. 


Colin Smith

Colin Smith
Communications and Public Affairs

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Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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