Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Robots manipulating animal behaviour

08.05.2006


A pet dog sits on command, but nobody expects an insect to follow human instructions. So it may come as a surprise to learn that researchers recently succeeded in controlling cockroaches with tiny mobile robots. The results hint at a future where we can interact and communicate with many different kinds of animal.



Little larger than a thumbnail, the cubic insect-like robots or ‘insbots’ are technological marvels. Developed under the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) initiative of the IST programme as the project Leurre, the insbots are fitted with two motors, wheels, a rechargeable battery, several computer processors, a light-sensing camera and an array of infrared proximity sensors.

When dropped into a small experimental area with a maze of curved walls, the robots move, turn and stop. They can navigate their way safely by avoiding the walls, obstacles or each other, follow the walls, congregate around a lamp beam or even line up. When placed in the same area with cockroaches, the robots quickly adapt their behaviour by mimicking the animals’ movements. Coated with pheromones taken from roaches, the infiltrator robots even fool the insects into thinking they are real creatures.


The roach pheromones – a blend of molecules developed by the project partner from the Université de Rennes I, France – enable various forms of communication, including recognition and attraction. For example, when a roach detects another roach, it may approach it, move away or stop. Cockroaches were chosen here because their pheromones are better understood than those found on other gregarious insects, such as ants.

According to coordinator Jean-Louis Deneubourg, from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the project had its origins in collective intelligence and behaviour in animal society, as well as the tradition of using artificial agents to test theories about animals. “Robots have already been used to interact with some animals, such as bees. But they cannot react to the animals’ response,” he says. “In our project, the autonomous insbots call on specially developed algorithms to react to signals and responses from individual insects. This results in a chain action or reaction between the artificial and natural agents – a two-way interaction that is unique and very promising for sciences such as biology and robotics.”

Not only did the insbots act like and interact with the insects, they even succeeded in changing the roaches’ behaviour. For example, the darkness-loving insects followed their artificial cousins towards bright beams of light and congregated there. This process took up to two hours, but it showed how humans might soon be able to manipulate the behaviour of a whole colony of insects. A trick that would delight pest-controllers the world over!

Two side-projects under Leurre also looked at sheep and chickens, animals that are happy to follow their ‘leaders’ – unlike the cockroaches, whose collective behaviour is essentially ‘democratic’. The researchers collected data and developed mathematical models describing the collective behaviour of sheep, such as clustering together in a field. These models have yet to be taken up in a follow-on project, but are scientifically valuable. Adds Deneubourg, “They are a great way of exploring the importance of leadership or collective behaviour in animals, paving the way for people to control animals and even colonies of robots.”

Asked why people would want to influence animal behaviour, Deneubourg offers several answers. Firstly, by changing the way animals behave or inducing collective behaviour, scientists can learn much about animal communications and information processing. Secondly, the ability to create ‘mixed systems’, where artificial agents interact with natural ones, is a long-held dream for many in the scientific community – including those working on nanotechnology. Moreover, these systems are in keeping with emerging European research such as collective robotics and FET-funded projects such as Swarmbots.

“We believe farming in Europe can only survive if is associated with high technology,” he adds, pointing to a potential increase in competitiveness and a decrease in costs. “A robot interacting with animals, even if it is not mobile, could be used for numerous tasks, such as herding or milking. Our project demonstrates that the fields of biology and IT can work together more closely in future.”

Though the project has officially ended, some of the partners are continuing to refine the behaviour models they developed. The main research results are also being published in leading IT and biology journals. “Time constraints prevented us from exploring all the new and interesting research paths that opened during the project,” says the project coordinator. “But we succeeded in our main goal – showing that an artificial agent such as a robot can modify the collective behaviour of natural agents, in this case cockroaches, in a mixed community.”

Tara Morris | alfa
Further information:
http://istresults.cordis.europa.eu/index.cfm/section/news/tpl/article/BrowsingType/Features/ID/81744
http://istresults.cordis.lu/

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches
25.05.2018 | Universität Ulm

nachricht Supercomputing the emergence of material behavior
18.05.2018 | University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>