Case studies

Robotics at the cutting edge

Mike Aldred

Mike Aldred

Senior Principle Engineer, Malmesbury

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are advancing into everyday life.

In the future, the development of AI will accelerate beyond anything we have previously imagined. It will offer limitless possibilities – changing our experiences, transforming every area of life and redefining how we interact with technology. Yet AI is not just future fantasy. It’s here and now, gaining momentum through advances in machine learning, neural networks and big data. These are exciting times.

Britain is home to some of the most innovative AI companies and will see a dramatic technology shift over the next few years. There’s a lot to learn. But at Dyson we’ve progressed a lot. It’s been a long journey that has thrust us into the realm of AI, where we’re now making significant moves.

I’m responsible for our strategic roadmap. We’ve got a long-term strategic direction, which is challenging, but is going to set us apart from the competition. We’ve actually identified problems to be solved, rather than just creating robots for the sake of it.

When I joined Dyson in 1998, we set about making our first robot vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming used to be a case of pulling the machine out of the cupboard, dragging it around the room, lugging it up the stairs. All this before the cable gets stuck and the plug pops out of the socket. Non-stop hassle. Thanks to the advances we’ve made in robotics, it no longer has to be that way.

By 2001, we’d developed a machine that was smart for its time – battery powered, minimal human interaction and a genuine labour-saving device. But it just wasn’t good enough. So at the eleventh hour, we pulled it. In 2015, after 17 years of intensive research and development, we launched the Dyson 360 Eye™ robot vacuum around the world – a truly cutting-edge piece of technology.

When I started in Dyson, we were unknown, especially in robotics. We are now, I’d say, one of the biggest centres for robotic innovation in the UK. We know we’re not perfect. We are always looking for more. However, in the Dyson way, we enjoy the challenges and take encouragement from failure.

Back in 2001, we were merely on the cusp of discovering the need for a robot with vision. Since then we’ve built one that uses complex mathematics, probability theory, geometry and trigonometry to map and navigate a room. It sees a bandwidth of light that extends beyond that of the human eye. It is incredibly effective.

In essence, we’ve transformed what was an ordinary, frustrating household item into an all-seeing, constantly calculating, autonomously moving vacuum cleaner – one that knows where it is, where it’s been and where it’s yet to clean. So as Dyson puts more investment and more resources into AI, we’re still only beginning to imagine what might be around the corner.