The Cyber Rodent project

At the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, neurobiologist Kenji Doya is using “cyber rodents” to probe how rewarding individuals when they achieve simple goals can give rise to intelligent group behaviors. Two of the critters circle each other in a mating dance. Others forage for fresh batteries on the floor. Another one just sits there. “That one is lazy,” says the scientist. “It doesn’t expend energy to get a reward.”


Doya’s work could help designers build machines that collaborate to carry out complex tasks, paving the way for self-sufficient swarms of robots that explore hostile environments, gather surveillance data, and repair equipment remotely.

The key is teaching the robots to do the right thing. Each rodent is equipped with a processor chip, a camera, sensors, wheels, and infrared data ports that allow it to communicate with others. If a robot approaches a battery pack or orients itself to mate, it receives a digital “reward”—a snippet of software code that reinforces that behaviour in the future. Over time, the robots compete for power and may even develop territories and alliances.

Via Technology Review.