Credit: Lindsay France/Cornell University. Source: PhysOrg.com.
Josh Bongard and his colleagues at Cornell write in the November 17, 2006, edition of Science (see abstract) about a new robot they have built. As reported on PhysOrg.com (thanks to Food not Bourgeoisie for spotting this), the robot develops a model of self to learn how to move, perhaps somewhat similar to the way human babies learn:
Nothing can possibly go wrong … go wrong … go wrong … The truth behind the old joke is that most robots are programmed with a fairly rigid “model” of what they and the world around them are like. If a robot is damaged or its environment changes unexpectedly, it can’t adapt.
So Cornell researchers have built a robot that works out its own model of itself and can revise the model to adapt to injury. First, it teaches itself to walk. Then, when damaged, it teaches itself to limp.
(continue reading at PhysOrg.com)
The robot is programmed with a list of its parts, but not how they are connected or used. Instead, it uses a process that is a mixture of scientific method and evolution to learn how to move. It activates a single random motor, then, based on the results, it constructs fifteen varying internal models of how it might be put together. Next, it decides on commands to send to its motors, selecting commands that will produce the largest variation between models. It activates its motors and based on the results, the most likely model is selected. Variations on this model are constructed, and the robot again determines which test movement will produce the largest difference in movement between models. (This sort of repeated variation and selection is sometimes called evolutionary computation.) After sixteen cycles, the robot uses its best model of self to determine how to move its motors to move the farthest. It then attempts to move (usually awkwardly, but functional).
In a second part of the experiment, the researchers simulated injury by removing part of a leg. When the robot detects a large discrepancy between its predicted movement and its actual movement, it repeats the sixteen-cycle process, generating a new model of self and new way to walk.