Robots learn to crawl before they walk

Creating evolutionary robots might lead to more adaptive machines.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Researchers at the University of Vermont are making robots that can evolve. First, the robots move like babies before they learn to walk.

Roboticist Josh Bongard thought it would be better to design a robot that can adapt, rather than program it so it gets stuck in its ways.

Bongard studied robots both in simulations and then actually built the robots to see how they did.

The scientist found that the robots evolved over time. Like humans, each generation learned something new.

No doubt, robots are complicated beings. Bongard said in a statement:

They have lots of moving parts. And their brains, like our brains, have lots of distributed materials: there’s neurons and there’s sensors and motors and they’re all turning on and off in parallel, and the emergent behavior from the complex system which is a robot, is some useful task like clearing up a construction site or laying pavement for a new road.

Previously, researchers have taught robots to perform incredible dance moves, fold laundry and even assist doctors at hospitals. Not to mention, robots can even do my job and write stories!

But they aren't smart enough to perform an open-ended task, much less roam freely around outside. The programs that control their every move, make them act a certain way (and can only perform a certain task). Talk about a limited destiny.

However, Bongard wanted them to be able to learn. He basically gave them a genetic algorithm, building their brain power after running five thousand simulations.

Then.. the researcher built real, four-legged robots from a few Lego kits. Next, Bongard tried to get the robots to get to a light source without falling over. After a few test runs, the scientists got the creatures to go from acting like tad poles to moving with an upright swagger.

The researcher discovered that the Lego robots can adapt. Not only did they get faster at getting to the light, they learned to avoid getting pushed over. Smart!

Well, this is a good start to creating a new species of robots. Well, you have to start somewhere, so why not begin with baby steps? Bongard likes to think of it as a video game, one that he will get better at playing over time.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards