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Starfish Robot Shows Robotic Introspection And Self-Modeling

A new four-legged robot can automatically synthesize a predictive model of its own topology (where and how its body parts are connected), and then successfully move around. It can also use this "proprioceptive" sense to determine if a component has been damaged, and then model new movements that take the damage into account.


(Starfish robot and friends [L->R, Zykov, Bongard, Lipson])

In their article, Josh Bongard, Victor Zykov, and Hod Lipson describe their experiment:

We demonstrate, both computationally and experimentally, how a legged robot automatically synthesizes a predictive model of its own topology (where and how its body parts are connected) through limited yet self-directed interaction with its environment, and then uses this model to synthesize successful new locomotive behavior before and after damage. The legged robot learned how to move forward based on only 16 brief self-directed interactions with its environment. These interactions were unrelated to the task of locomotion, driven only by the objective of disambiguating competing internal models. These findings may help develop more robust robotics, as well as shed light on the relation between curiosity and cognition in animals and humans...


(Starfish robot introspects, modeling itself)

If the robot is damaged, it can sense the problem and attempt to compensate. The robot has tilt and angle sensors in all of its joints; readings from these sensors are used by the robot to create a self-image. If sensors indicate that a part is missing or damaged, it changes its image of itself and moves on.


(Starfish robot top view)

As for sf references, everybody remembers the HAL-9000 unit that ran the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL was also able to sense problems in the ship and then get one if its servants (the human astronauts) to install new components, if necessary.

Despite their achievement, the researchers remain modest in the face of nature. "We never officially named it, but we usually refer to it as the Starfish robot, even though a real starfish has five rather than four legs," said lead researcher Josh Bongard, now at the University of Vermont. "Also, a real starfish is much better than our robot at recovering from injury, because it can actually regrow its legs."

Update 24-Nov-2006: See a remarkable Starfish robot video.

Update 23-Sep-2022: An interesting prediction of this idea in the 1949 short story Unforeseen, by Roger P. Graham, published by Fantastic Adventures in 1949:

...it will take at least two years to synthesize their minds to the point where they are as capable as an adult.”

“Two years!” came a chorus of voices. “That long?”

“I think that a remarkably short period,” Horace said with his first show of temper. “After all they start out like a newborn babe and have to discover their hands, feet, and other parts of their bodies. They have to learn just like a human baby, except that they are full size to start with.
(Read more about robot introspection)

End update.

Take look as some earlier work by Lipson and Zykov et al in this article - Self-Replicating Modular Robots. More materials here, including a video, as well as here.| Thanks to an anonymous reader who suggested this article.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/17/2006)

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