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Monday, October 26, 2020

Adding a Brain to a Robot

Sounds obvious, but what are the form and function and challenges of such a brain? To be more human, more creative, more engaging?   Made me think.

How Giving Robots a Hybrid, Human-Like ‘Brain’ Can Make Them Smarter By Edd Gent in SingularityHub

Squeezing a lot of computing power into robots without using up too much space or energy is a constant battle for their designers. But a new approach that mimics the structure of the human brain could provide a workaround.

The capabilities of most of today’s mobile robots are fairly rudimentary, but giving them the smarts to do their jobs is still a serious challenge. Controlling a body in a dynamic environment takes a surprising amount of processing power, which requires both real estate for chips and considerable amounts of energy to power them.

As robots get more complex and capable, those demands are only going to increase. Today’s most powerful AI systems run in massive data centers across far more chips than can realistically fit inside a machine on the move. And the slow death of Moore’s Law suggests we can’t rely on conventional processors getting significantly more efficient or compact anytime soon.

That prompted a team from the University of Southern California to resurrect an idea from more than 40 years ago: mimicking the human brain’s division of labor between two complimentary structures. While the cerebrum is responsible for higher cognitive functions like vision, hearing, and thinking, the cerebellum integrates sensory data and governs movement, balance, and posture.

When the idea was first proposed the technology didn’t exist to make it a reality, but in a paper recently published in Science Robotics, the researchers describe a hybrid system that combines analog circuits that control motion and digital circuits that govern perception and decision-making in an inverted pendulum robot.

“Through this cooperation of the cerebrum and the cerebellum, the robot can conduct multiple tasks simultaneously with a much shorter latency and lower power consumption,” write the researchers.

The type of robot the researchers were experimenting with looks essentially like a pole balancing on a pair of wheels. They have a broad range of applications, from hoverboards to warehouse logistics—Boston Dynamics’ recently-unveiled Handle robot operates on the same principles. Keeping them stable is notoriously tough, but the new approach managed to significantly improve all digital control approaches by radically improving the speed and efficiency of computations.  ... "

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