Research highlight

'Chaos control' spawns complex robotic behavior

Nature Physics

January 18, 2010

Inspired by insects, a 'smart' six-legged robot that uses chaos control to react quickly to its environment can perform a variety of complex 'cockroach-like' behaviours. The hexapod is revealed in this week's Nature Physics.

Mimicking even the simplest of animal behaviour, such as walking along uneven terrain, is a challenging task. But Poramate Manoonpong, Marc Timme, and colleagues show that by incorporating a simple but inherently chaotic pattern-generator into the control system of an autonomous robot enables it to exhibit adaptive behaviour that allows it to successfully navigate through a complex environment. The robot, which performs combinations of 11 basic behaviours, outstrips many of its rivals that operate with limited autonomy and perform just a few behaviours. The team designed the device, which uses 18 sensors to drive 18 motors by means of one simple neural circuit.

The result is a robot that swiftly changes gait to walk uphill, downhill or over rough terrain, whilst retaining the ability to avoid obstacles and react to light. And if it finds itself in a hole, the neural circuit operates chaotically, enabling the robot to free itself. So the hexapod quickly and reversibly adapts to new situations, but also retains the ability to learn over longer time scales.

doi: 10.1038/nphy1508

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