Robots That Act Like Rats

Feb 15, 2005
This robot was designed with the same basic senses and motor skills as a rat pup

Robots that act like rat pups can tell us something about the behavior of both, according to UC Davis researchers.
Sanjay Joshi, assistant professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, and associate professor of psychology Jeffrey Schank have recorded the behavior of rat pups and built rat-like robots with the same basic senses and motor skills to see how behavior can emerge from a simple set of rules.

Image: This robot was designed with the same basic senses and motor skills as a rat pup. (Sanjay Joshi/UC Davis photo)

Seven to 10-day-old rat pups, blind and deaf, do not seem to do a whole lot. Videotaped in a rectangular arena in Schank's laboratory, they move about until they hit a wall, feel their way along the wall until their nose goes into a corner, then mostly stay put. Because their senses and responses are so limited, pups should be a good starting point for building robots that can do the same thing.

Joshi's laboratory built foot-long robots with tapered snouts, about the same shape as a rat pup. The robots are ringed by sensors so that they "feel" when they bump into a wall or corner. They are programmed to stay in contact with objects they touch, as rats do.

But when the robotic "rats" were put into a rectangular arena like that used for experiments with real rats, the robots showed a new behavior. They scuttled along the walls and repeatedly bumped into one corner, but favored one wall. Instead of stopping in a corner they kept going, circling the arena.

"When we re-analyzed the animal data, we found that the animals were also favoring one wall over another as they bumped around in corners," Joshi said. "The robots showed us what to look for in animal studies."

The wall-following or corner-sticking is emergent behavior, he said. That means it is not written into the computer code, but emerges as a result of the instructions the robot follows as it interacts with the environment at each instant.

The team is also looking at the behavior that emerges when groups of robotic rats interact using different kinds of rules. This should show biologists what the rats may be doing. Understanding the biology of these simple systems might later inform the design of more sophisticated robots, Joshi said.

Source: University of California - Davis

Explore further: Consumer loyalty driven by aesthetics over functionality

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The promise and peril of nanotechnology

Mar 26, 2014

Scientists at Northwestern University have found a way to detect metastatic breast cancer by arranging strands of DNA into spherical shapes and using them to cover a tiny particle of gold, creating a "nano-flare" ...

Emerging ethical dilemmas in science and technology

Dec 10, 2013

As a new year approaches, the University of Notre Dame's John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values has released its annual list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and ...

Robosquirrels versus rattlesnakes

Apr 03, 2012

Robot squirrels from the University of California, Davis, are going into rattlesnake country near San Jose, continuing a research project on the interaction between squirrels and rattlesnakes.

Recommended for you

Consumer loyalty driven by aesthetics over functionality

13 hours ago

When designing a new car, manufacturers might try to attract consumers with more horsepower, increased fuel efficiency or a lower price point. But new research from San Francisco State University shows consumers' loyalty ...

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

15 hours ago

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China, according to a study published December 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xiao-hong Chen f ...

Study: Alcatraz inmates could have survived escape

15 hours ago

The three prisoners who escaped from Alcatraz in one of the most famous and elaborate prison breaks in U.S. history could have survived and made it to land, scientists concluded in a recent study.

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.