Wednesday, February 11, 2009

RGU’s robots may evolve just like animals

North-east researchers have discovered a technique to develop robots that have the ability to evolve in the same way as animals.

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, who laid the foundations of the theory of evolution, researchers at Robert Gordon University have discovered how to produce robots capable of operating and evolving like animals.

The research, which was recently published in an artificial-intelligence journal, revealed the potential to make machines which can interact with their environment and perform useful tasks in difficult or dangerous circumstances or even around the home.

Methods currently used in robotics at the Aberdeen-based university allow the robot to become progressively more complex, building up new skills and abilities on top of those already in place.

It does this by gradually developing the robot's body and environment from simple to complex while at the same time growing its brain, a special control circuit called an artificial neural network, by adding new parts.

Chris Macleod, who is leading the research at RGU's school of engineering, said: “Using this system we have produced a complex robot, which is capable of operating rather like an animal.

“The robot started off pulling itself along in a primitive way and then went through a series of developing body plans and environments until it had evolved into a walking quadruped, able to react to visual stimuli, avoid obstacles and react to predefined objects as predators or prey.

“In theory there is no limit to the degree of complexity which can be achieved and so robots with potentially human-like abilities, such as Sonny in the film I-Robot could, in the future, be designed using a similar technique. It is also possible that by studying the evolution of our robot's brain it may shed light on the early development of life.”

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