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Old 09-14-2006, 12:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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HUAR WARNING - ROBOT ARMY IS HERE - and it swarms! http://www.wired.com/news/technol

By David Hambling| Also by this reporter
02:00 AM Sep, 14, 2006

Darpa's Grand Challenge may have looked tough, but it was a piece of cake compared to the challenge facing robots currently being developed by the U.S. Air Force.

Rather than maneuver driverless through miles of rough desert terrain, these will have to find their way into underground bunkers, map unknown facilities in three dimensions and identify what's in them while avoiding detection -- all without any human control.

This is well beyond the capability of any existing system, but the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is putting its hopes on new software that lets robots learn, walk, see and interact far more intelligently than ever before.

It's based on work by Stephen Thaler, who came to prominence 10 years ago with his brainchild the Creativity Machine. This is software for generating new ideas on the basis of existing ones, and it has already written music, designed soft drinks, and discovered novel minerals that may rival diamonds in hardness.

The software is a type of neural network with two special features. One introduces perturbations, or "noise," into the network so that existing ideas get jumbled into new forms. The second is a filter that assesses the new ideas against existing knowledge and discards those that are unsuitable. Current applications range from detecting intruders in computer networks to developing new types of concrete and optimizing missile warheads.

Recently, Thaler has been working for the AFRL on what he calls Creative Robots, which joins his brand of AI to robotic hardware.

Dr. Thaler's approach is clever and should have some interesting properties, said Michael Rilee, a NASA researcher who is working on a neural networking project to use bot swarms in space and planetary exploration, known as Autonomous Nano-Technology Swarm, or ANTS. The chief novelty is in its use of neural nets to train other neural nets.

Self-learning and adaptability will be the key to success, and this is where the Creativity Machine excels. Give it any set of robotic limbs and it will master locomotion within minutes without any programming, swiftly finding the most efficient way of moving toward a goal. It will spontaneously develop new gaits for new challenges. (Thaler recounts how a virtual robotic cockroach adopted a two-legged gait and ran on its hind legs, not unlike basilisk lizards, when it needed to move faster.)

Perhaps the most impressive -- and spookiest -- aspect of the project is the swarming behavior of the robots. In computer simulations, they acted together to tackle obstacles and grouped together into defensive formations where needed, Thaler said. They also worked out how to deal with defenders, and spontaneously devised the most efficient strategy for mapping their environment, he added.

"This approach has less chance of getting stuck than any other" when dealing with unpredictable obstacles, according to Lloyd Reshard, a senior electronics engineer at AFRL.

Thaler declined to describe his results in detail, but said his system has produced unspecified "humanlike capabilities."

"I can relate the results of virtual-reality simulations, where swarms of Creativity Machine-based robots have deliberatively sacrificed one of their kind to distract a human guard, enabling the remainder to infiltrate a mock facility," he said.

Owen Holland, a researcher at the University of Essex who is building an ultraswarm of miniature Bluetooth-connected helicopters, said neural networks can be very effective for dealing with changing circumstances: "If you rip a leg off, they'll work out what's happened, and re-evolve a different gait that works."

Story continued on Page 2
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Old 09-14-2006, 12:42 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I just read this

On Wired. I'm scared shitless.

http://www.wired.com/news/technology...l?tw=rss.index
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