When robots go wild

July 5, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

robotarium1.jpgWell, not really wild but a little cranky. Wired has a fascinating piece about Robotarium X, a robot zoo in Portugal and the first zoo dedicated to artificial life. This interests me from a complexity perspective – 45 different robots (or animals) inhabit the same vivid yellow 4m high glass and steel cage and self-organise. They adapt to their environment and simulate nature and evolution.

Far from living in harmony, the robots are showing signs of aggressive behaviour. The robots belong to two different ‘classes’ – the ‘solar bots’, which are small, peace loving robots who seek sunlight and power themselves by photovoltaic energy; and the larger ‘electrical bots’, which are powered by cable, perform for the audience and cannot detect the solar bots. Within the two classes, there are fourteen distinct species and all the robots are autonomous and have wheels, legs or the capability to slither. Of all different designs, some of the bots are hairy, some have horns, others have sensors. I’m not sure why but Cursovigilo reminds me of Tyrannosaurus Rex – probably because Cursovigilo is the vigilant of the cage and looks a bit like T-Rex. There are seven of these robots, which follow anyone that approaches the glass.

There have been some unfortunate run-ins. The larger bots run over the smaller ones and cut off their tails so they are in a sense ‘dead’ and unable to function. By sensing and detecting movement outside their cage, the nine larger bots like to follow and interact with visitors. Spider-like bots move up and down the glass of the cage making threatening gestures; whilst a flower-like bot opens its petals when it senses an audience of admirers looking at it. The smaller bots’ mission is to stay out of the way of the larger, more aggressive electrical robots, seek sunlight and avoid bumping into walls.

The designer of the robots, Leonel Moura, wants to move onto a larger installation, which he is calling Zoobotic and believes that robots will form a novel species in the future. You can check out the robots on Moura’s site – some are quite cute, some look like mice, others have long thin tails, Moura seems to have created the zoo as a work of art as well as a scientific experiment.

You can watch a video of Robotarium X on YouTube – fascinating if not a little creepy. And go to Moura’s site to see some photos of the little critters, including Cursovigilo – putting the photos on my blog caused it to crash!


Entry filed under: Artificial life, Artificial zoo, Robot zoo, Robotarium X, Robots.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Josh  |  September 13, 2007 at 2:22 am

    You know, when humanity develops scientifically, we won’t need machinery for ‘robots’.

    We will be able to synthetically create ‘biological robots’ and program them with all the information we need.

    If we want them to do all of the manual labour, then we create a human body (basically like a meat puppet) and then program their mind to take pleasure in serving others and doing as they’re told. We can also program them to not hurt anyone or anything. The possibilities are endless. We can give them enough information in order to do all of the things we do eg. know when to sleep and to eat, but we can also NOT give them conscousness.

    So basically – they’re biological robots.



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