Insights and new questions for machine and natural learning of spatial intelligence in robots and animals

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community



Michael Milford
Queensland University of Technology


"Insights and new questions for machine and natural learning of spatial intelligence in robots and animals"


Our lab has spent the past two decades bridging the divide between our understanding of the neuroscience and behaviour underlying animal mapping, localization and perception systems, and creating their high performance technological equivalents for robots and autonomous vehicles. In this talk I will cover some of the key insights we’ve discovered from these very different research endeavours, in particular in going all the way from theoretical models of neural systems to high performance, deployable technology. Our quest to create reliable, introspective mapping and positioning systems for robots has also cast a light on the limited utility of the performance metrics so strongly favoured in current computer science research, that both challenge our concepts of how we conduct research, and reframe how we might think about analysing the performance of natural animal systems. I’ll also introduce the robot and autonomous system technologies our QUT Centre for Robotics creates, that fly through the skies, move through and under the sea, and drive across the land: on-road, off-road, and underground.


Professor Milford conducts interdisciplinary research at the boundary between robotics, neuroscience, computer vision and machine learning, and is a multi-award winning educational entrepreneur. His research models the neural mechanisms in the brain underlying tasks like navigation and perception to develop new technologies in challenging application domains such as all-weather, anytime positioning for autonomous vehicles. From 2022 – 2027 he is leading a large research team combining bio-inspired and computer science-based approaches to provide a ubiquitous alternative to GPS that does not rely on satellites. He is also one of Australia’s most in demand experts in technologies including self-driving cars, robotics and artificial intelligence, and is a passionate science communicator. He currently holds the position of Joint Director of the QUT Centre for Robotics, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, Professor at the Queensland University of Technology, and is a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

His research has helped attract more than 48 million dollars in research and industry funding for fellowships and team projects. Michael’s papers have won (6) or been finalists (9) for 15 best paper awards including the 2012 ICRA Best Vision paper. His citation h-index is 48, with 11,836 citations as of March 2023. Michael has dual Australian-US citizenship and has lived and worked in locations including Boston, Edinburgh and London. He has led or co-led projects and research collaborating with leading global organizations including Amazon, Google, Intel, Ford, Rheinmetall, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NASA, Harvard, Oxford and MIT.

Michael has given more than 250 keynotes, plenaries and invited presentations at major industrial corporations (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Toyota, OpenAI, Uber), top universities (including Harvard University, MIT, Oxford University, CMU, Imperial College London, Cambridge), international conferences, workshops and scientific meetings across thirteen countries to audiences of up to 2000 people. His work has been recognized by many international and national awards including the 2019 Batterham Medal for Engineering Excellence, the 2015 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year award and a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship. He was recently awarded a $2.7M Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship, the premier Australian fellowship scheme, and is one of the youngest recipients in the program’s history.

As a lifelong educational entrepreneur, Michael has written innovative textbooks, novels and storybooks (20 titles to date) for early childhood, primary and high school audiences, and has collaborated with the major movie studio representatives to write a regular “science in the movies” review series. His company Math Thrills combines mass market entertainment and STEM education, is funded from Kickstarter, QUTBluebox and the AMP Foundation, and has been recognized through honours including being a Reimagine Education Awards finalist, a TedXQUT talk and World Science Festival event. His company has sold in 35 countries to date with recent titles including the Complete Guide to Autonomous Vehicles for Kids… and Everyone Else, STEM Storybook, The Complete Guide to Artificial Intelligence for Kids, Robot Revolution and Rachel Rocketeer.