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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 10:53 GMT
Robot wars for real
Predator robot attacks a prey robot
Predators may evolve tactics to capture the prey (Courtesy Guzalian)
Robots are being let loose in a colony of machines in an attempt to find out whether they can learn from their experiences.

The scientists behind this unusual experiment describe it as an evolutionary arms race for robots, with the machines struggling to collect energy.

The Living Robots experiment will be open to the public from 27 March at the Magna science adventure centre in Rotherham in England.

Visitors will be able to watch the real life Robot Wars in a purpose-built arena, designed to hold 500 people.

Hunting prey

For the experiment, the robots have been divided into predators and prey.

You may find that the predators will go into packs and hunt in packs

Noel Sharkey, Sheffield University
The prey robots are small grey metal creatures on wheels that get their energy by positioning their solar panels near sources of light.

The larger predator robots get their energy by locating and hunting down the prey to extract their battery power.

The robots all operate without any human intervention, and are designed to learn by themselves and evolve.

Scientists hope the experiment will reveal that these robots have the ability to use their accumulated experiences to enable them to develop improved escape routines and more complex hunting strategies.

"You may find that the predators will go into packs and hunt in packs which will be the clever things to do," said Professor Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University.

"My own feeling is that they won't hunt in packs until they are very evolved and to begin with they actually will try to fight each other off to get at the prey."

Electronic genes

Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University
Noel Sharkey: Spent 18 months on the robots (Courtesy Guzalian)
The ultimate aim is to build more intelligent robots for dangerous tasks like exploring distant planets, where machines might need to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Professor Sharkey and his dedicated team at the Creative Robotics Unit at Magna spent the last 18 months developing the robots.

Both the predator and prey robots are controlled by neural networks that take input from their sensors and send output instructions to their drive motors. This is what enables and controls their behaviour.

Most of the sensing on the robots is done with their infrared sensors.

The machines can evolve by uploading their "electronic genes" to a remote computer.

The principle of survival of the fittest will apply as only robots which survive for a given length of time will be allowed to re-enter their electronic genes into the breeding pool.

See also:

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Peering into the future
28 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Robot toys are tops
31 Oct 01 | Business
Robot investment on the rise
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