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For robust robots, let them be babies first
Date:1/20/2011

t's not that the animal's body stays fixed and its brain gets better over time," he says, "in natural evolution animals bodies and brains are evolving together all the time." A human infant, even if she knew how, couldn't walk: her bones and joints aren't up to the task until she starts to experience stress on the foot and ankle.

That hasn't been done in robotics for an obvious reason: "it's very hard to change a robot's body," Bongard says, "it's much easier to change the programming inside its head."

Still, Bongard gave it a try. After running 5000 simulations, each taking 30 hours on the parallel processors in UVM's Vermont Advanced Computing Center -- "it would have taken 50 or 100 years on a single machine," Bongard sayshe took the task into the real world.

"We built a relatively simple robot, out of a couple of Lego Mindstorm kits, to demonstrate that you actually could do it," he says. This physical robot is four-legged, like in the simulation, but the Lego creature wears a brace on its front and back legs. "The brace gradually tilts the robot," as the controller searches for successful movement patterns, Bongard says, "so that the legs go from horizontal to vertical, from reptile to quadruped.

"While the brace is bending the legs, the controller is causing the robot to move around, so it's able to move its legs, and bend its spine," he says, "it's squirming around like a reptile flat on the ground and then it gradually stands up until, at the end of this movement pattern, it's walking like a coyote."

"It's a very simple prototype," he says, "but it works; it's a proof of concept."


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Contact: Joshua Brown
joshua.e.brown@uvm.edu
802-656-3039
University of Vermont
Source:Eurekalert  

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