Conscious Robots in the making

September 19, 2005

story by Salima Vastani

We’ve all heard of automatic robots that require minimum supervision. But what about robots that can make conscious decisions and act upon them like we humans do? In other words, a robot that is completely autonomous in the real sense.

On Sept 15th, students and faculty of Computing Science joined Dr. Richard Vaughan, of the Autonomy Lab, Don Anderson and Gordon Krugen (from Gumstix Inc., California) to meet with Prof. Owen Holland from University of Essex, UK to discuss machine consciousness in robot building. Prof. Holland took us through the study done on consciousness research and explained how it is now studied by engineers and computer scientists in an effort to build conscious machines.

He and his team at the University of Essex are working on machine consciousness “in a strongly embodied context.” In other words, a robot that has a similar internal body structure to humans - skeleton, muscles, tendons, eyeballs etc. - that will make the robot function humanly from the “motor point of view.”

Prof. Holland and his team’s research work is based on the internal human body structure- how the muscles are connected to the skeleton and how the body acts on it to produce movements and to exert force on the external world.The research team at Univ. of Essex, UK is replicating this human internal model to make a human-like conscious machine.

For more information on this interesting research study on machine consciousness and the problems faced in this endeavor, please visit For more information about the SFU Autonomy Lab please visit: