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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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TAGS

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
06 DECEMBER 2013

Four-winged robot flies like a jellyfish

"Tiny flying robots usually mimic nature's flyers, like birds and insects–but perhaps that's due to a lack of imagination. A four–winged design created by Leif Ristroph and colleagues at New York University, which boasts a body plan reminiscent of a jellyfish, is more stable in the air than insect–like machines.

The prototype consists of a carbon–fibre frame surrounded by two pairs of thin plastic wings that open and close when driven by a motor. Its shape allows it to fly upright with little effort, without requiring sensors or intelligence to adjust its wings like those used by insects. 'Making a dumb machine is a nice strategy for very small robots,' says Ristroph. 'Without circuits and sensors, it's also lighter.'"

(Sandrine Ceurstemont, 25 November 2013, New Scientist)

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TAGS

2013 • American Physical Society • carbon-fibre frame • carried on the breeze • centimetre-scale • creaturedesign prototypedriftdrone • dumb machines • flappingfloatingflying • flying jellyfish • flying machine • flying robot • fruit flyhelicopter • insect-like machine • jellyfish • Leif Ristroph • New Scientist • New York University • plastic wings • robot • robot drone • robotic creature • self-stabilizing • small robot • tiny • wing

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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