The new Robot can recover from damage

Iran Materials 20 November 2006 15:57 (UTC +04:00)

(boston.com) - When people or animals get hurt, they can usually compensate for minor injuries and keep limping along, but for robots, even slight damage can make them stumble and fall. Now a robot scarcely larger than a human hand has demonstrated a novel ability: It can recover from damage -- an innovation that could make robots more independent.

The new robot, which looks like a splay-legged, four-footed starfish, deduces the shape of its own body by performing a series of playful movements, swiveling its four limbs. By using sensors to record resulting changes in the angle of its body, it gradually generates a computerized image of itself. The robot then uses this to plan out how to walk forward, reports Trend

This machine is, in a very rudimentary sense, self-aware," said Josh Bongard of the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt., one of the robot's creators. Bongard and his colleagues at Cornell University described the robot in last week's issue of Science.

The team tested the robot's ability to respond to damage by pulling off one of its limbs, forcing the starfish to readjust its self-image. The "injured" robot modified its computerized picture, then planned a new gait and managed to hobble forward.

The researchers hope similar robots will someday respond not only to damage to their own bodies but also to changes in the surrounding environment. Such responsiveness could lend autonomy to robotic explorers on other planets like Mars -- a helpful feature, since such robots can't always be in contact with human controllers on earth.