Rights: The University of Waikato Published 2 September 2010 Download

Sensors allow robots to collect information on their environment. However, as Victoria University’s Professor Dale Carnegie explains, it’s computers that enable the actual interpretation of this data. Information from the environment is converted by electronics in the sensors to voltage and current data that computers can use.

Point of interest

In this clip, Professor Carnegie compares a robot’s computer to the human brain. If the robot’s brain is a computer, what human functions can robot sensors mimic?


Our robots can have all sorts of different intelligence in them from our reasonably simple washing machines to our very sophisticated security guards.

All a robot or a computer will ever understand is a voltage or a current – that is all they ever work on – yet when we are detecting distance, we are trying to measure how long a beam of light has taken to hit an object and come back. Without the electronics, we can't convert that information into something that the robot can use.

The computer board in the robot is the brains, so without that, everything just remains voltage and current, nothing else. It is the equivalent of our human brain. It says, “OK, on the basis of all of this information that I'm receiving, what shall I do now, where shall I go, what shall I look at next, what action shall I do?”

So it’s that computer inside it which really makes that decision based on all the information coming in from the sensors.