From the automata of the ancient Greeks, to the curious mechanical inventions of the Age of Enlightenment, people have been creating robotic renderings of animals for centuries. It was only recently, however, that technology advanced enough to produce sophisticated robots that biologists can use for studying animal behavior. By mimicking specific behaviors with striking realism, these robots can stand in for (and fool) their living counterparts -- thus offering researchers the one thing that's o
From the automata of the ancient Greeks, to the curious mechanical inventions of the Age of Enlightenment, people have been creating robotic renderings of animals for centuries. It was only recently, however, that technology advanced enough to produce sophisticated robots that biologists can use for studying animal behavior. By mimicking specific behaviors with striking realism, these robots can stand in for (and fool) their living counterparts -- thus offering researchers the one thing that's often lacking in experimental setups that use live animals: control. "Having these robots allows animal behaviorists to try to tease apart the components of complex signals that are important for the individuals and for interactions between individuals," says Purdue University ecologist Esteban Fernández-Juricic, who has constructed robotic birds. Here are robot animals in action that help Fernandez-Juricic and other researchers learn more about animal behavior.
linkurl:Esteban Fernandez-Juricic;http://estebanfj.bio.purdue.edu/ -- robot house finches and starlingsPurdue University
Ornithologists are still puzzled by how flocks of birds are able to form intricate patterns when flying. Fernandez-Juricic's lab tackles this mystery by using bird robots to study how individual birds pick up and respond to cues from those nearby. So far, they've found that live birds are very sensitive to subtle variations in the movements of robots, such as the time they spend facing up versus facing down.
Courtesy of Esteban Fernandez-Juricic
linkurl:Gail Patricelli;http://www.eve.ucdavis.edu/gpatricelli/ -- robot grouseUniversity of California, Davis
Why female birds should choose to mate with a particular male depends not only on his physical "attractiveness," but in how socially adept he is. Working with the flamboyant greater sage grouses in the plains of Wyoming, Patricelli's team uses female robots equipped with cameras and sound systems to get a bird's eye view of the complex behaviors male engage in to attract females.
linkurl:Terry Ord;http://www.eerc.com.au/ord/index.html -- robot lizardsThe University of New South Wales, Australia
Behaviors can elicit different responses depending on the circumstances. Ord's team studies how Puerto Rican lizards respond to territorial displays -- such as head bobbing and the unfurling of the flaps of skin surrounding the throat -- from robot lizards in different environmental contexts. They found that in "noisy" visual environments, such as those with low light, lizards engage in a form of visual shouting by doing a set of push ups before the usual territorial displays in order to ensure they get the attention of their neighbors.
José linkurl:Halloy;http://www.ulb.ac.be/sciences/use/halloy.html -- robot cockroachesUniversité Libre de Bruxelles
To enter the mind of a cockroach nest, Halloy's team need not dress robots in cockroach exoskeleton. With the right mix of pheromones, the roaches will accept a block of tightly packed sensors on wheels as one of their own. Not only that, but the cockroaches are more likely to ditch their cozy dark dens and follow the robots into bright, open spaces -- showing robots are capable of influencing their collective decision-making. This is one of many projects that look into the emergence of collective intelligence and self-organization in populations.
linkurl:Jolyon Faria;http://www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/staff/profile.php?tag=Faria_JS - "robofish"University of Leeds, UK
With a life-like replica of a three-spined stickleback fish, Faria and colleagues were able to successfully integrate the bot into a stickleback school. Fortunately for "robofish," the others considered it to be the boldest in the bunch--most likely because it was a faster swimmer and could easily leave the others trailing behind--and preferred to follow it over one of their own kind. Faria and colleagues hope their new schoolmate will shed light on complex group dynamics.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Laborin' lizards;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/55298/ [10th November 2008]*linkurl:The frog robot condom;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/home/36658/ [January 2009]*linkurl:A robot with a real brain;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54929/ [14th August 2008]
It is good to read such articles, know the new developments and entertaining to watch the videos. Still, the robotics is in its infancy. The branch of science needs a real breakthrough!\n\nVinod Nikhra, M.D.\nwww.vinodnikhra.com\nwww.nikhrafoundation.in