Researchers Create Behavior-Based Robots That can Reason and React

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In a collaboration between the College of Computing and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, scientists including Thomas Collins and Ronald Arkin are integrating capabilities for low-level performance -- such as movement guidance systems -- with higher-level reasoning.

Collins, a senior research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute's Electronic Systems Laboratory, likens the "minds" of these machines to those of clever insects that have learned to thrive. "A cockroach is intelligent because it can survive and do the things it needs to do well. By that definition, these robots are smart," he says.

In the Mobile Robot Laboratory, Collins collaborates with researchers in the College of Computing to create machines that can make complex decisions. They are exploring two new applications in a study funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Researchers are teaching the robots how to search through rooms for biological hazards, and perhaps to find, intercept and destroy a moving enemy tank on the battlefield. The robots perform the tasks on their own. No one uses a joystick to guide them.

Some university robot labs focus on low-level performance, such as movement guidance systems. Others work to achieve higher-level reasoning in machines. But researchers in Georgia Tech's robot program are pioneering efforts to integrate those separate levels of functioning to design behavior-based robotics for both military and private-sector applications.

"Our goal is to create intelligence by combining reflexive behaviors with cognitive functioning," explains Ronald Arkin, a Regents' professor of computer science and director of the lab. "This involves the issue of understanding intelligence itself. Is it complex? Or just an illusion of complexity?"


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