Robots Help Scientists Study Evolution

Posted 5 Dec 2012 at 17:41 UTC (updated 5 Dec 2012 at 17:41 UTC) by steve Share This

A National Science Foundation news release profiles research being done at BEACON, an NSF center for the study of evolution in action. The "in action" part is the key to their work, as noted in the news release:

Evolution is not just something from the past. It also happens in real time. Bacteria mutate and resist antibiotics. Viruses reinvent themselves and elude new medications. Animals adapt their behavior in response to a changing planet. "It's not that what we're doing won't shed light on evolution over millions of years, but we also are able to study things we can actually observe with our eyes," says Erik Goodman. "We are looking at evolution in the real world."

Robots and AI software that use evolutionary algorithms play a key role in helping researchers to understand and duplicate what they see happening in nature. As they learn about evolution and computational biology, the researchers are also making some interesting advances in robot software itself, as in the work they've done in evolving robot behavior and evolution of cooperation in artficial systems. Their website is full of articles that will be of interest to roboticists and AI developers and includes plenty of introductory level topics like Evolution 101: Neuroevolution. Part of the NFS funding also goes to working with high school students and university students. Read on to see a video interview in which BEACON's principle researcher talks about his long term artificial evolution project. While not directly related to the robotics aspect, this work led to his interest in digital organisms and computation biology at BEACON.

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