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Smart Sensory Systems


The major aims of the project are twofold: to obtain a quantitative description of information processing occurring in early stages of vision, olfaction and hearing; and to propose new hardware architecture which will be useful for robotics. The specific aims of the project are to:

- obtain quantitative models of phototransduction, chemotransduction and mechanotransduction
- obtain an adequate understanding of information processing in the vertebrate visual and auditory systems
- compare properties and functions of natural and artificial sensors and design an electronic ear and analyse better strategies for the autonomous navigation of a mobile vehicle.
The research focuses on the analysis of natural and artificial sensors and is providing a better understanding of the information processing of sensory data occurring at the initial stages in vision, olfaction and hearing. Several biological mechanisms have been identified which are used to design electronic ear and develop efficient control strategies for robots.

Some relevant results have been obtained in the understanding of natural and artificial sensors.
The model of early stages of phototransduction, originally developed for amphibian photoreceptors, has been successfully extended to human photoreceptors. Also, the gating properties of light sensitive channels in photoreceptors have been quantitatively analysed and clarified. The exact relation between odour concentration and amplitude of response in olfactory neurons has been obtained for the first time under controlled conditions.

Significant progress has been made in the modelling of the information processing of sound in the auditory system and reactive behaviours and intelligent strategies have been combined in mobile robots, able to perform complex tasks.
Several visual routines useful for the autonomous navigation of a vehicle moving in outdoor environments have been developed and tested.

The project is interdisciplinary: it gathers expertise and knowledge from different fields, such as psychology, physics and information science, and intends to use both theoretical and experimental approaches. Modelling will explore analytical solutions (obtained by solving ordinary and/or partial differential equations) and computer simulations. Models will be compared with experimental results which already have been published, or with results specifically obtained in this project. The experimental analysis will use a variety of electrophysiological and optical techniques. The project also aims at making a comparison between artificial and natural sensors in order to see which features of biological sensory processing can be useful in designing new sensors or robots. In particular, the consortium will investigate an electronic ear. By comparing techniques inspired by the nervous system of the fly and traditional control techniques inspired by artificial intelligence, the team will also analyse the best strategies for controlling the navigation of a mobile vehicle.


The project is producing results which will be useful for industrial exploitations. The blueprint and the VLSI chip of the electronic ear is clearly relevant to automatic speech processing and many tasks in office automation. The development of visual routines for outdoor navigation and best strategies for controlling robots has generated interest in several European industries and agencies.


Università degli Studi di Genova
Via Dodecaneso 35
16146 Genova

Participants (5)

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
31 Chemin Joseph Aiguier
13402 Marseille
Istituto di Cibernetica e Biofisica
Via Dodecaneso 33
16146 Genova
Loughborough University of Technology
United Kingdom
Ashby Road
LE11 3TU Loughborough
University of Bristol
United Kingdom
Senate House Tyndall Avenue
BS8 1TH Bristol
University of Cambridge
United Kingdom
Free School Lane
CB2 3RF Cambridge