Columbia Engineering researchers have made a major advance in robotics by creating a robot that learns what it is, from scratch, with zero prior knowledge of physics, geometry, or motor dynamics. Initially the robot does not know if it is a spider, a snake, an arm–it has no clue what its shape is. After a brief period of “babbling,” and within about a day of intensive computing, their robot creates a self-simulation. The robot can then use that self-simulator internally to contemplate and adapt to different situations, handling new tasks as well as detecting and repairing damage in its own body. The work is published today in Science Robotics.
To date, robots have operated by having a human explicitly model the robot. “But if we want robots to become independent, to adapt quickly to scenarios unforeseen by their creators, then it’s essential that they learn to simulate themselves,” says Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering, and director of the Creative Machines lab, where the research was done.