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The Future of Robots Is Rat-Shaped

By Agence France Presse (France)

June 10, 2009

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Some roboticists believe that artificial intelligence researchers are following the wrong path by trying to replicate human intelligence, and a better approach would be to start at a lower level and work out simpler abilities that humans and animals have in common, such as navigating, avoiding danger, and searching for food. France's Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics (ISIR) is working on a robot whose intelligence and body is modeled after the rat.

ISIR is developing a rat robot called Psikharpax that uses wheels to move around and has two cameras for eyes and a pair of microphones for ears. The robot rat is outfitted with artificial whiskers to sense obstacles, as its real-life counterpart does. Data from the whiskers is fed into a chip whose software hierarchy mirrors the structures in a rat's brain that process and analyze visual, auditory, and sensual input. Training the rodent droid to survive in new environments — by detecting and circumventing objects, avoiding collisions, and spotting opportunities to recharge itself — is the goal of the experiment.

"We want to make robots that are able to look after themselves and depend on humans as least as possible," says ISIR researcher Agnes Guillot. "If we want to send a robot to Mars, or help someone in a flat that we don't know, the robot has to have the ability to figure out things out for itself."

From Agence France Presse (France)
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