Robots show the evolution of altruism

May 23, 2011
Robots show the evolution of altruism

Scientists in Switzerland have pieced together the puzzle on the evolution of unselfish behaviour. They simulated genetic evolution over hundreds of generations by using simple robots, providing evidence of kin selection. Presented in the journal PLoS Biology, the study was backed in part by the EU projects ECAGENTS and SWARMANOID with a combined funding of EUR 6.8 million.

Altruistic is not foreign to nature; one generation gets it from the one that came before. A case in point is . These ants are sterile and make the altruistic sacrifice by not transmitting their genes in order to guarantee the survival of the queen's . Kin selection is when an individual makes a sacrifice so as to ensure the survival of a relative's .

The biologist W.D. Hamilton proposed in the mid 1960s a set of conditions under which altruistic behaviour could evolve. Today's researchers call this 'rule' kin selection. In a nutshell, when an individual shares food with family, they decrease their chances of survival but increase the likelihood that their family members will pass on their genes. Under this rule, the genetic proximity of organisms influences whether one individual shares food with another.

To date, the challenge for researchers to test the evolution of has been great, mainly due to the lack of experiments and the fact that too many variables were involved.

Dario Floreano, a professor of robotics at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, and one of the authors of the study, used simulated gene and functions on robots that evolve quickly, giving researchers the support they need to calculate the costs and benefits associated with the trait.

'This study mirrors Hamilton's rule remarkably well to explain when an altruistic gene is passed on from one generation to the next, and when it is not,' explains Laurent Keller from the Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne.

In past tests, Professors Floreano and Keller demonstrated that foraging robots able to do complex-free tasks evolve over multiple generations. In this latest study, they used a foraging that could handle more complex tasks including deciding whether it wants to share an object or not.

The team says the results are already proving useful in swarm robotics. 'We have been able to take this experiment and extract an algorithm that we can use to evolve cooperation in any type of robot,' Professor Floreano says. 'We are using this altruism algorithm to improve the control system of our flying robots and we see that it allows them to effectively collaborate and fly in swarm formation more successfully.'

Explore further: Brain-training for baseball robot

More information: Waibel, M., et al. (2011) A quantitative test of Hamilton's rule for the evolution of altruism. PLoS Biology. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000615

Related Stories

Robots shed more light on evolution (w/ Video)

Feb 01, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Swiss scientists have proposed that if robots could evolve through natural selection the result would be robots that would help each other, cooperate, and be capable of hunting. Their experiments ...

Robots Reveal Insights into Evolution

Sep 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In an ironic twist to our understanding of life, robots may offer a greater degree of realism for studying some of the intricacies of natural selection and evolution than real organisms offer. ...

Altruism in social insects is a family affair

May 29, 2008

The contentious debate about why insects evolved to put the interests of the colony over the individual has been reignited by new research from the University of Leeds, showing that they do so to increase the chances that ...

Recommended for you

Streaming release of 'Interview' test for industry

17 hours ago

Sony's "The Interview" has been a hacking target, a punchline and a political lightning rod. Now, with its release online at the same time it debuts in theaters, it has a new role: a test for a new kind of ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.