Control system lets spacecraft think for themselves

Manfully resisting the temptation to call it HAL, a team at the University of Southampton has developed the world’s first control system to allow satellites and spacecraft to think for themselves.

Professor Sandor Veres and his team of engineers have developed an artificially intelligent control system called ‘sysbrain’, which uses natural language programming (NLP) to read special English language technical documents on control methods.

This gives the vehicles advanced guidance, navigation and feedback capabilities – to stop them crashing into other objects – as well as the ability to adapt during missions, identify problems, carry out repairs and make their own decisions about how best to carry out a task.

“This is the world’s first publishing system of technical knowledge for machines and opens the way for engineers to publish control instructions to machines directly,” says Veres.

“As well as spacecrafts and satellites, this innovative technology is transferable to other types of autonomous vehicles, such as autonomous nderwater, ground and aerial vehicles.”

To test how it works in a space environment, Professor Veres and his team constructed a test facility and a fleet of satellite models, which are controlled by the sysbrain cognitive agent control system.

“Sysbrain is a special breed of software agents with unique features such as natural language programming to create them, human-like reasoning, and most importantly they can read special English language documents in ‘system English’ or ‘sEnglish’,” says Veres.

“Human authors of sEnglish documents can put them on the web as publications and sysbrain can read them to enhance their physical and problem solving skills. This allows engineers to write technical papers directly for sysbrain that control the machines.”