Artificial Life Just Got a Little More Real with Robot Mom

[DIGEST: News Daily, The Telegraph, Reuters]

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have designed a robot “mom” that discovers how to build little walking baby robots out of blocks with motors in them. The “mom” robot, shaped like a mechanical arm, is not given any plans or instructions on how to design the children. She starts with a collection of simple cubes containing motors and moving parts, and assembles them into different patterns. She then places each robot on a runway, activates the motors, and watches to see how far it travels. Depending on how they are put together, some of the child robots move farther and faster than others. The “mom” robot then analyzes the configurations that moved the farthest, and uses those structures as a starting point to create a  new “generation” of baby walking robots to activate and test.

Second Nexus
Robot “Mom” Photo: University of Cambridge

This procedure mimics the process of evolution: the robot builds a population of simple block-based devices that are similar to each other but have individual variations. They are given a fitness test: the robot evaluates which ones can travel the farthest in a given period of time. Then, they are subjected to a selection process: the “mom” robot chooses the best performers to be the basis for creating a new population of block-based devices, all with their own individual variations, so the entire process can repeat. Over time, the best performers get incrementally better at performing the task for which they are selected: walking quickly.

You can read the full article at PLOS ONE, a free online scientific journal.

Bringing Artificial Life into the Real World

Some articles are reporting this as an advance in artificial intelligence; however, although it is certainly related to that field, this research is more closely tied to a lesser-known area of investigation called artificial life.

Artificial life was a hot topic throughout the 1990s. In the United States, the Santa Fe Institute held annual conferences for researchers from around the world to discuss topics ranging from evolutionary robotics to genetic programming, to the simulation of flocks

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