ROBOTRONIKA - hypermatic:automagic
19 - 23 June 1998 Museumsquartier, Vienna/Austria

Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, B
Andreas Birk, Yves Gotegluck, Paul Vogt
The Fish

The Fish is an autonomous underwater robot that was developed to investigate how robots can behave autonomously underwater. The Fish is an unusual creature and it's shape is that of a fish. The Fish's tail can move sideward, enabling forward movement of the fish. Inside the Fish's body there is specialized electronics to control the robot. It was developed in 1992 by Tim Smithers and Miles Pebody. Now it is only exhibited as a piece of art.

The Language Game Robots

The Language Game robots are two small LEGO vehicles actuated by two motors. The robots couple sensory input more or less directly via a specialized sensory-motor board (SMBII): the robot's 'brain', which is developed at the AI-Lab in Brussels. Using a radio-link, the robots can communicate about their environment, which they observe by their sensors. The robots are currently used to investigate the origin of language.

Research Themes in the VUB AI-lab robotics group
In the robotic agents group of the VUB AI-lab, researchers try to investigate intelligence from bottom-up. This means, they work with simple robots inspired by nature, so-called animats (= animal + robot), and they try to stepwise increase their complexity.

In one experimental set-up, different animats are linked together in an ecosystem-like setting. This means, that there is a global "food" supply in form of a charging-station and the different agents compete for it. Within this framework, experiments on sensor-motor-control, vision, cooperation, learning, and - by default - autonomy are conducted.

Important constraints for this research are hardware requirements. Learning capabilities imply sufficient memory, vision is impossible without a camera-like device, and so on. Therefore, the development of a suited hardware-architecture and components, which is also done in the VUB AI-Lab, is a crucial corner-stone of our work.

Last but not least, the work on robotic agents is related to another research theme investigated in the VUB AI-lab. In the origins of language group, a number of researchers centered around Luc Steels investigates how language could have developed. The main hypothesis is that language originated and became complex through cultural evolution. Self organization caused languages to stay coherent and to develop certain universal characteristics. The lab's robots are used in this research for grounding, i.e., to relate the formation of language to the performance of the robots in the real world.