Saturday, November 29, 2014

Robotic nest building

Technically what we are doing here is called cognitive ethology. Ethology involves looking for patterns in animal behavior, especially natural behavior as opposed to artificial laboratory experiments. It often involves looking at various different species as well.

The cognitive aspect is that we are looking specifically at behavior that involves understanding, reasoning and decision making. We have been studying these features in humans for many years.

Part of our approach is to look at artificial intelligence for help, because this field often involves the mimicking of cognition. As pointed out previously, building expert systems is a way to look at the rules that people and animals use to make decisions. The same is true of robotics.

Building robots to perform complex tasks has also taught us a great deal. So, for example, what would a robin's nest building robot look like? In particular, what cognitive functions would it have to implement? At the highest level these include finding and choosing a nest site, then finding and selecting various building materials, in parallel with assembling them into the final nest.

None of these are simple tasks and more importantly none is well understood. Mind you I do not expect anyone to spend the millions of dollars it would take to build such a robot. The point is to think about all the things it would have to do.

In recent years people have developed robotic cars that work pretty well under certain conditions. One wonders if a nest building robot would be simpler, or more complex, than a self driving car? I do not think we know at this point.