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Introduction: Robots with Cognition?


Franz,  MO
Department Empirical Inference, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Franz, M. (2003). Introduction: Robots with Cognition?. Talk presented at 6. Tübinger Wahrnehmungskonferenz (TWK 2003). Tübingen, Germany.

Using robots as models of cognitive behaviour has a long tradition in robotics. Parallel to the historical development in cognitive science, one observes two major, subsequent waves in cognitive robotics. The first is based on ideas of classical, cognitivist Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to the AI view of cognition as rule-based symbol manipulation, these robots typically try to extract symbolic descriptions of the environment from their sensors that are used to update a common, global world representation from which, in turn, the next action of the robot is derived. The AI approach has been successful in strongly restricted and controlled environments requiring well-defined tasks, e.g. in industrial assembly lines. AI-based robots mostly failed, however, in the unpredictable and unstructured environments that have to be faced by mobile robots. This has provoked the second wave in cognitive robotics which tries to achieve cognitive behaviour as an emergent property from the interaction of simple, low-level modules. Robots of the second wave are called animats as their architecture is designed to closely model aspects of real animals. Using only simple reactive mechanisms and Hebbian-type or evolutionary learning, the resulting animats often outperformed the highly complex AI-based robots in tasks such as obstacle avoidance, corridor following etc. While successful in generating robust, insect-like behaviour, typical animats are limited to stereotyped, fixed stimulus-response associations. If one adopts the view that cognition requires a flexible, goal-dependent choice of behaviours and planning capabilities (H.A. Mallot, Kognitionswissenschaft, 1999, 40-48) then it appears that cognitive behaviour cannot emerge from a collection of purely reactive modules. It rather requires environmentally decoupled structures that work without directly engaging the actions that it is concerned with. This poses the current challenge to cognitive robotics: How can we build cognitive robots that show the robustness and the learning capabilities of animats without falling back into the representational paradigm of AI? The speakers of the symposium present their approaches to this question in the context of robot navigation and sensorimotor learning. In the first talk, Prof. Helge Ritter introduces a robot system for imitation learning capable of exploring various alternatives in simulation before actually performing a task. The second speaker, Angelo Arleo, develops a model of spatial memory in rat navigation based on his electrophysiological experiments. He validates the model on a mobile robot which, in some navigation tasks, shows a performance comparable to that of the real rat. A similar model of spatial memory is used to investigate the mechanisms of territory formation in a series of robot experiments presented by Prof. Hanspeter Mallot. In the last talk, we return to the domain of sensorimotor learning where Ralf Möller introduces his approach to generate anticipatory behaviour by learning forward models of sensorimotor relationships.