But, so far, engineers have been largely unsuccessful at creating robots that can continually perform simple, yet adaptable, behaviors in unstructured or outdoor environments.
Which is why Bongard, an assistant professor in UVM's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and other robotics experts have turned to computer programs to design robots and develop their behaviors -- rather than trying to program the robots' behavior directly.
His new work may help.
Using a sophisticated computer simulation, Bongard unleashed a series of synthetic beasts that move about in a 3-dimensional space. "It looks like a modern video game," he says. Each creature -- or, rather, generations of the creatures -- then run a software routine, called a genetic algorithm, that experiments with various motions until it develops a slither, shuffle, or walking gait -- based on its body plan -- that can get it to the light source without tipping over.
"The robots have 12 moving parts," Bongard says. "They look like the simplified skeleton of a mammal: it's got a jointed spine and then you have four sticks -- the legs -- sticking out."
Some of the creatures begin flat to the ground, like tadpoles or, perhaps, snakes with legs; others have splayed legs, a bit like a lizard; and others ran the full set of simulations with upright legs, like mammals.
And why do the generations of robots that progress from slithering to wide legs and, finally, to upright legs, ultimately perform better, getting to the desired behavior faster?
"The snake and reptilian robots are, in essence, training wheels," says Bongard, "they allow evolution to find motion patterns quicker, because those kinds of robots can't fall over. So evolution only has to solve the movement problem, but not the balance problem, initiall
|Contact: Joshua Brown|
University of Vermont