Magazine article Technology & Learning

Supersmart Robots: The Next Generation of Robots Has Evolutionary Capabilities

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Supersmart Robots: The Next Generation of Robots Has Evolutionary Capabilities

Article excerpt

Robots that can learn new behaviors. Robots that can reproduce themselves. Science fiction? Not anymore. Roboticists at Cornell's Computational Synthesis Lab have developed just such engineered creatures that offer interesting implications for education.

Traditionally, every move a robot might make is preprogrammed by its creators. Their ability to complete tasks is only as good as their inventors' ability to foresee every possible maneuver they might need to make and include it in the robot's job description. As a consequence, current robots can only help us with mundane, repetitive actions.

The team, headed by Hod Lipson, was intrigued by the question, "How can you get robots to be creative?" To answer it, the group set about making robots a different way. Instead of designing the machines manually with programs for every eventuality, the researchers created learning systems that would enable the robots to learn and evolve, more as children do.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Using this evolutionary robotics approach, the researchers created simple, legged robots with eight motors and some basic circuitry to allow them to try out various behaviors and act on the consequences.

We're not talking C3PO here, or even R2-D2. The appearance of these robots is not anthropomorphized. In fact, they look more like four-legged tarantulas made out of LEGO toys. But they do mimic humans in their ability to learn about themselves.

Through self-directed interaction with their environment, the robots develop a sense of their own shape and structure. …

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