Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Robot


For infants, the first problem in learning a word is to map the word to its referent; a second problem is to remember that mapping when the word and/or referent are again encountered. Recent infant studies suggest that spatial location plays a key role in how infants solve both problems. Here we provide a new theoretical model and new empirical evidence on how the body - and its momentary posture - may be central to these processes. The present study uses a name-object mapping task in which names are either encountered in the absence of their target (experiments 1-3, 6 & 7), or when their target is present but in a location previously associated with a foil (experiments 4, 5, 8 & 9). A humanoid robot model (experiments 1-5) is used to instantiate and test the hypothesis that body-centric spatial location, and thus the bodies' momentary posture, is used to centrally bind the multimodal features of heard names and visual objects. The robot model is shown to replicate existing infant data and then to generate novel predictions, which are tested in new infant studies (experiments 6-9). Despite spatial location being task-irrelevant in this second set of experiments, infants use body-centric spatial contingency over temporal contingency to map the name to object. Both infants and the robot remember the name-object mapping even in new spatial locations. However, the robot model shows how this memory can emerge -not from separating bodily information from the word-object mapping as proposed in previous models of the role of space in word-object mapping - but through the body’s momentary disposition in space.

Concepts: Time, Scientific method, Empiricism, Experiment, Space, Robot, Humanoid robot, Body


Escaping from predators often demands that animals rapidly negotiate complex environments. The smallest animals attain relatively fast speeds with high frequency leg cycling, wing flapping or body undulations, but absolute speeds are slow compared to larger animals. Instead, small animals benefit from the advantages of enhanced maneuverability in part due to scaling. Here, we report a novel behavior in small, legged runners that may facilitate their escape by disappearance from predators. We video recorded cockroaches and geckos rapidly running up an incline toward a ledge, digitized their motion and created a simple model to generalize the behavior. Both species ran rapidly at 12-15 body lengths-per-second toward the ledge without braking, dove off the ledge, attached their feet by claws like a grappling hook, and used a pendulum-like motion that can exceed one meter-per-second to swing around to an inverted position under the ledge, out of sight. We discovered geckos in Southeast Asia can execute this escape behavior in the field. Quantification of these acrobatic behaviors provides biological inspiration toward the design of small, highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist us during natural and human-made disasters. We report the first steps toward this new capability in a small, hexapedal robot.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Ecology, English-language films, Behavior, Robot, American films, Escape, Escape character


Artificial evolution of physical systems is a stochastic optimization method in which physical machines are iteratively adapted to a target function. The key for a meaningful design optimization is the capability to build variations of physical machines through the course of the evolutionary process. The optimization in turn no longer relies on complex physics models that are prone to the reality gap, a mismatch between simulated and real-world behavior. We report model-free development and evaluation of phenotypes in the artificial evolution of physical systems, in which a mother robot autonomously designs and assembles locomotion agents. The locomotion agents are automatically placed in the testing environment and their locomotion behavior is analyzed in the real world. This feedback is used for the design of the next iteration. Through experiments with a total of 500 autonomously built locomotion agents, this article shows diversification of morphology and behavior of physical robots for the improvement of functionality with limited resources.

Concepts: Gene, Natural selection, Genotype, Evolution, Phenotype, Robot, Artificial life, Morphology


Liquid-handling robots have many applications for biotechnology and the life sciences, with increasing impact on everyday life. While playful robotics such as Lego Mindstorms significantly support education initiatives in mechatronics and programming, equivalent connections to the life sciences do not currently exist. To close this gap, we developed Lego-based pipetting robots that reliably handle liquid volumes from 1 ml down to the sub-μl range and that operate on standard laboratory plasticware, such as cuvettes and multiwell plates. These robots can support a range of science and chemistry experiments for education and even research. Using standard, low-cost household consumables, programming pipetting routines, and modifying robot designs, we enabled a rich activity space. We successfully tested these activities in afterschool settings with elementary, middle, and high school students. The simplest robot can be directly built from the widely used Lego Education EV3 core set alone, and this publication includes building and experiment instructions to set the stage for dissemination and further development in education and research.

Concepts: Chemistry, Science, Experiment, Robot, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, Lego, Seymour Papert


This study provides the first physiological evidence of humans' ability to empathize with robot pain and highlights the difference in empathy for humans and robots. We performed electroencephalography in 15 healthy adults who observed either human- or robot-hand pictures in painful or non-painful situations such as a finger cut by a knife. We found that the descending phase of the P3 component was larger for the painful stimuli than the non-painful stimuli, regardless of whether the hand belonged to a human or robot. In contrast, the ascending phase of the P3 component at the frontal-central electrodes was increased by painful human stimuli but not painful robot stimuli, though the interaction of ANOVA was not significant, but marginal. These results suggest that we empathize with humanoid robots in late top-down processing similarly to human others. However, the beginning of the top-down process of empathy is weaker for robots than for humans.

Concepts: Neurology, Human anatomy, Robot, Autonomous robot, Humanoid robot, Android, Automaton, Al-Jazari


Android robots are entering human social life. However, human-robot interactions may be complicated by a hypothetical Uncanny Valley (UV) in which imperfect human-likeness provokes dislike. Previous investigations using unnaturally blended images reported inconsistent UV effects. We demonstrate an UV in subjects' explicit ratings of likability for a large, objectively chosen sample of 80 real-world robot faces and a complementary controlled set of edited faces. An “investment game” showed that the UV penetrated even more deeply to influence subjects' implicit decisions concerning robots' social trustworthiness, and that these fundamental social decisions depend on subtle cues of facial expression that are also used to judge humans. Preliminary evidence suggests category confusion may occur in the UV but does not mediate the likability effect. These findings suggest that while classic elements of human social psychology govern human-robot social interaction, robust UV effects pose a formidable android-specific problem.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Sociology, Robotics, Robot, Android, Uncanny valley, Android science


Soft robots possess many attributes that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with conventional robots composed of rigid materials. Yet, despite recent advances, soft robots must still be tethered to hard robotic control systems and power sources. New strategies for creating completely soft robots, including soft analogues of these crucial components, are needed to realize their full potential. Here we report the untethered operation of a robot composed solely of soft materials. The robot is controlled with microfluidic logic that autonomously regulates fluid flow and, hence, catalytic decomposition of an on-board monopropellant fuel supply. Gas generated from the fuel decomposition inflates fluidic networks downstream of the reaction sites, resulting in actuation. The body and microfluidic logic of the robot are fabricated using moulding and soft lithography, respectively, and the pneumatic actuator networks, on-board fuel reservoirs and catalytic reaction chambers needed for movement are patterned within the body via a multi-material, embedded 3D printing technique. The fluidic and elastomeric architectures required for function span several orders of magnitude from the microscale to the macroscale. Our integrated design and rapid fabrication approach enables the programmable assembly of multiple materials within this architecture, laying the foundation for completely soft, autonomous robots.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Fluid, Robotics, Robot, Autonomous robot, Humanoid robot, Pneumatics, Evolutionary robotics


Origami can turn a sheet of paper into complex three-dimensional shapes, and similar folding techniques can produce structures and mechanisms. To demonstrate the application of these techniques to the fabrication of machines, we developed a crawling robot that folds itself. The robot starts as a flat sheet with embedded electronics, and transforms autonomously into a functional machine. To accomplish this, we developed shape-memory composites that fold themselves along embedded hinges. We used these composites to recreate fundamental folded patterns, derived from computational origami, that can be extrapolated to a wide range of geometries and mechanisms. This origami-inspired robot can fold itself in 4 minutes and walk away without human intervention, demonstrating the potential both for complex self-folding machines and autonomous, self-controlled assembly.

Concepts: Developed country, Demonstration, Computer, Robot, Machine, Functional programming, Emulator, Fold


A fundamental challenge in robotics today is building robots that can learn new skills by observing humans and imitating human actions. We propose a new Bayesian approach to robotic learning by imitation inspired by the developmental hypothesis that children use self-experience to bootstrap the process of intention recognition and goal-based imitation. Our approach allows an autonomous agent to: (i) learn probabilistic models of actions through self-discovery and experience, (ii) utilize these learned models for inferring the goals of human actions, and (iii) perform goal-based imitation for robotic learning and human-robot collaboration. Such an approach allows a robot to leverage its increasing repertoire of learned behaviors to interpret increasingly complex human actions and use the inferred goals for imitation, even when the robot has very different actuators from humans. We demonstrate our approach using two different scenarios: (i) a simulated robot that learns human-like gaze following behavior, and (ii) a robot that learns to imitate human actions in a tabletop organization task. In both cases, the agent learns a probabilistic model of its own actions, and uses this model for goal inference and goal-based imitation. We also show that the robotic agent can use its probabilistic model to seek human assistance when it recognizes that its inferred actions are too uncertain, risky, or impossible to perform, thereby opening the door to human-robot collaboration.

Concepts: Psychology, Skill, Machine learning, Learning, Developmental psychology, Statistical inference, Robotics, Robot


Division of labor is ubiquitous in biological systems, as evidenced by various forms of complex task specialization observed in both animal societies and multicellular organisms. Although clearly adaptive, the way in which division of labor first evolved remains enigmatic, as it requires the simultaneous co-occurrence of several complex traits to achieve the required degree of coordination. Recently, evolutionary swarm robotics has emerged as an excellent test bed to study the evolution of coordinated group-level behavior. Here we use this framework for the first time to study the evolutionary origin of behavioral task specialization among groups of identical robots. The scenario we study involves an advanced form of division of labor, common in insect societies and known as “task partitioning”, whereby two sets of tasks have to be carried out in sequence by different individuals. Our results show that task partitioning is favored whenever the environment has features that, when exploited, reduce switching costs and increase the net efficiency of the group, and that an optimal mix of task specialists is achieved most readily when the behavioral repertoires aimed at carrying out the different subtasks are available as pre-adapted building blocks. Nevertheless, we also show for the first time that self-organized task specialization could be evolved entirely from scratch, starting only from basic, low-level behavioral primitives, using a nature-inspired evolutionary method known as Grammatical Evolution. Remarkably, division of labor was achieved merely by selecting on overall group performance, and without providing any prior information on how the global object retrieval task was best divided into smaller subtasks. We discuss the potential of our method for engineering adaptively behaving robot swarms and interpret our results in relation to the likely path that nature took to evolve complex sociality and task specialization.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Biology, Life, Species, Insect, Task, Robot