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Dr Francesco Mondada received the Latsis Foundation Award

Dr Francesco Mondada, a senior researcher at the Autonomous Systems Laboratory (ASL), has been awarded the Latsis Foundation Award for his contribution to educational and bio-inspired robotics. His interest in combining mechatronic design with artificial neural networks, artificial evolution and bio-inspired solutions led him to the creation of several mobile robots combining self-organising, collective and communication abilities.

For 13 years now, Dr F. Mondada is working in the field of bio-inspired mobile robots, trying to fill the gap between two separate worlds: the world of the biologist, who is observing animal behaviour and the one of the engineer, who is creating machines like for instance robots. The collaboration between biologists, performing simulations of neural networks and bio-inspired systems, and engineers, active in robotics has led to the real implementation of the model of creatures. By analysing animal world, and more specifically, social organisation and collective behaviour of insects, he has designed innovative mobile robots.
 
The miniature robot called Khepera was the first robot on which Francesco Mondada applied a bio-inspired approach as member of the team of Prof. Nicoud. Khepera is able to learn some specific behaviours. For example, he can learn to visit regularly a place for recharging its batteries or to perform collective manipulation. A company, K-Team SA, was created in 1995 to commercialise the Khepera, which is now used in about 1000 universities worldwide for research and education.
 
The next step has been to mimic the social behaviour and the ability of insects to work together. In the project Swarm-bots, mobile robots are able to connect to each other to perform a specific task, for example, to cross an obstacle, or to move an object.
 
The ongoing work, made in the framework of the “Leurre” project, has the aim to create artificial creatures that can interact with animals and be accepted in their societies. The scientists would like to demonstrate that it is possible to mix insects and specifically designed robots that interact, communicate and influence the global behaviour of the mixed-society.
 
By filling this gap between biology and engineering science, Dr F. Mondada has provided a major scientific contribution in an interdisciplinary research field.