Scientist teaches robot mice to evolve

Credit: OIST

Dr. Stefan Elfwing is a researcher studying evolution at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). As you might imagine, observing new evolutionary changes happening around us is a bit of a glacial process. Looking to speed up the process, Dr. Elfwing got his hands on a small colony of mouse-like robots and taught them how to evolve.

Evolving robots might sound as if Dr. Elfwing is cobbling together Terminators in a secret lab, but his robots (at least so far) are far more docile than all that. The "Cyber Rodents" were programmed with the need to "mate" and to feed themselves on batteries. Some units, called "Trackers," focused primarily on finding a mate. Others called "Foragers," would only mate if they happened to lock infrared ports with the right mate at the right time as they hunted for batteries.

Thousands of Cyber Rodent generations (and numerous colony re-boots) later, and Dr. Elfwing discovered something very interesting. Despite the mating-centric robots mating more, neither the Trackers nor the Foragers were routinely eliminated from the robot "gene pool". In fact, when both types of mouse-bots remained in the colony, the entire population was healthier overall, with battery levels kept high and breeding levels sustainable.

The perfect balance seemed to be about 75 percent Trackers and 25 percent Foragers. The same sort of sustainable balance, known as polymorphic mating behavior, can be observed in real animal colonies, and that means that Dr. Elfwing's Cyber Rodents can be used for further research into how living organisms evolve. As for how the robots themselves will evolve next, that'll be determined by how they're programmed. We're just hoping they don't ever start thinking of humans as batteries.


For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
@dvice or find us on Facebook