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13 FEBRUARY 2015

The Creepy Collective Behavior of Boston Dynamics' New Robot Dog

"Robotics company Boston Dynamics has a new four–legged addition to its family: a 160–pound quadruped named Spot...

We know from Spot's reaction to that kick that he can dynamically correct his stability–behavior that's modeled after biological systems. From what Couzin can tell, the robots' collective movement is an organic outgrowth of that self–correction. When the two Spots collide at the 1:25 mark, they're both able to recover quickly from the nudge and continue on their route up the hill. 'But the collision does result in them tending to align with one another (since each pushes against the other),' Couzin wrote in an email. 'That can be an important factor: Simple collisions among individuals can result in collective motion.'

In Couzin's research on locusts, for example, the insects form plagues that move together by just barely avoiding collisions. 'Recently, avoidance has also been shown to allow the humble fruit fly to make effective collective decisions,' he wrote.

It doesn't look like Spot is programmed to work with his twin brothers and sisters–but that doesn't matter if their coordination emerges naturally from the physical rules that govern each individual robot. Clearly, bumping into each other isn't the safest or most efficient way to get your robot army to march in lock step, but it's a good start. And it's relatively easy to imagine several Spots working together in organized ways if the LIDAR sensors fitted on their 'heads' were programmed to create avoidance behaviors–like those locusts–rather than simply reacting to collisions.

Spot's life–like motions are uncanny, but when you add this emergent, collective behavior–which can sometimes be unpredictable–the possibilities get downright scary. Will Spot's group dynamics stop at the point of swarming like locusts? (Ominous.) Will they cluster into self–protecting balls like sardines? (Less so.) Or could they end up as smart and responsive as humans?

Couzin goes so far as to call this bump–and–grind between Spots One and Two a social interaction. 'No matter how primitive, there's no doubt that these interactions could enhance the decision–making capabilities of such robots when they must make their own, autonomous, decisions in an uncertain world,' he wrote. We'll just have to hope that decision–making involves not trampling us when a pack of Spots starts stampeding like wildebeest."

(Neel V. Patel, 11 February 2015 Wired News)

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2015animal locomotionartificial lifeautomataautonomous creature • avoidance behaviour • biological systems • Boston Dynamics • bumping • collective animal behavior • collective behaviour • collective decisions • collective motion • collective movement • collision detection • decision-making capabilitiesdogfruit flyherd • Iain Couzin • LIDARlocomotionmechanical being • nudge • physical rules • quadruped • robot army • robot dog • robot machinesrobotic creaturerobotics • self-correction • social interactionspeculative engineering • Spot (robot) • stabilityswarming • swarming locusts • walkingWired (magazine) • Wired News

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
15 APRIL 2014

Computer simulated evolution of virtual creatures (1994)

"This narrated computer animation shows results from a research project involving simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures. A population of several hundred creatures is created within a supercomputer, and each creature is tested for their ability to perform a given task, such the ability to swim in a simulated water environment. The successful survive, and their virtual genes containing coded instructions for their growth, are copied, combined, and mutated to make offspring for a new population. The new creatures are again tested, and some may be improvements on their parents. As this cycle of variation and selection continues, creatures with more and more successful behaviors can emerge.

The creatures shown are results the final products from many independent simulations in which they were selected for swimming, walking, jumping, following, and competing for control of a green cube."

(Karl Sims, Internet Archive)

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1994animal locomotion • artificial evolution • artificial life • coded instructions • competing for control • computer animationcomputer graphicscomputer simulation • evolutionary biology • evolutionary changesevolutionary determinismevolutionary theoryflappinggenetic artgenetic evolutiongeometric formsInternet Archive • Karl Sims • life formlocomotionmechanical beingmutation • natural selection • new forms of life • offspring • organismprimitive logicresearch projectSIGGRAPHsimulated environment • successful behaviours • supercomputer • survival of the fittestswimmingsynthetic biologysynthetic-life • variation and selection • virtual creatures • virtual genes • walking

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
12 JANUARY 2014

Theo Jansen's Strandbeest Evolution

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
04 JUNE 2013

The Senster: pioneering cybernetic sculpture

"The Senster, commissioned by the electronics giant, Philips, for their permanent showplace, the Evoluon, in Eindhoven, was a much bigger and more ambitious piece of work than SAM. In addition to responding to people's voices, the Senster also responded to their movements, which it detected by means of radar, and was (as far as I know) the first robotic sculpture to be controlled by a computer. It was unveiled in 1970 and remained on permanent show until 1974 when it was dismantled.

Its size – it was over 15 feet (4 m) long and could reach as high into the air – made the use of aluminium castings inappropriate, so it was welded out of steel tubing, with the castings employed only in the more intricate microphone positioning mechanism. Its behaviour, controlled by a computer, was much more subtle than SAM's but still fairly simple. The microphones would locate the direction of any predominant sound and home in on it, rather like SAM but much more efficiently, and the rest of the structure would follow them in stages if the sound persisted. Sudden movements or loud noises would make it shy away. The complicated acoustics of the hall and the completely unpredictable behaviour of the public made the Senster's movements seem a lot more sophisticated than they actually were. It soon became obvious that it was that behaviour and not anything in its appearance which was responsble for the impact which the Senster undoubtedly had on the audience."

(Aleksandar Zivanovic)

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1970acousticsart + technologyartificial intelligenceartificial life • audio activated • audio controlledautomata • computer controlled • computer historycomputer sculpturecybernetic art • cybernetic sculpture • Cybernetic Serendipitycybernetics • direction detection • Edward Ihnatowicz • Eindhoven • futuristic machineshanging mobileinteractive artinteractive toykinetic artkinetic sculpturemechanical beingmechanismmovementPhilipsradarrobotroboticrobotic sculpturerobotics • SAM (Sound Activated Mobile) • sculptureshow (spectacle)simulation • sound activated • sound sculpturespeculative design • The Senster • wonderment

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
03 JUNE 2013

Les Automates Jaquet-Droz

"Réalisé principalement par Pierre Jaquet–Droz, l'Ecrivain est le plus compliqué des trois mécanismes. Assis devant un pupitre, l'automate tient une plume d'oie qu'il trempe dans l'encrier, puis il la secoue légèrement avant de commencer de dessiner les lettres sur le papier. Grâce à un mécanisme annexe, ses yeux suivent son travail. L'Ecrivain est capable de tracer un texte de 40 signes au maximum, répartis sur quatre lignes. La principale invention de son mécanisme est le système de programmation par disque, qui lui permet d'écrire des textes suivis sans intervention extérieure. Il est également possible de lui faire écrire n'importe quelle phrase, lettre par lettre."

(Musée d'art et d'histoire de Neuchâtel)

[A robotic draftsman which is able to write through following a programmable sequence of letters.]

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1774 • 18th centuryandroidanimated modelsautomataautomation • clockwork • computer historydevicefuturistic machines • Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz • human-likehumanoid automatonindustrial heritageinteractive toy • Jean-Frederic Leschot • kinetic automaton • Les automates • mechanical beingmechanical engineering • Pierre Jaquet-Droz • programmable device • quill pen • robotsimulacrasimulationspeculative designSwitzerlandsynthesis machineswriterwriting machine

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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