Science

Space robots that can heal like humans on anvil

| Updated on: Sep 17, 2012

Scientists are planning to use “bio-inspired” designs to develop the next wave of space robots that can heal themselves and learn from their environment like living creatures.

At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2012 Conference & Exposition, robotics researchers from NASA and the US military talked about developing robots that will use designs based on specialised jellyfish cells, lemur climbing skills or even the fast-learning brain of a human child.

Living organisms still have two huge advantages over even the best space robots - biological creatures can heal themselves and they have nervous systems capable of learning from the surrounding environment.

These space robots will mimic those biological abilities through self-repair mechanisms and “brains” based on learning software, InnovationNewsDaily reported.

“When a 2- or 3-year-old [child] falls down and skins a knee, it learns about the environment and heals itself,” said Brett Kennedy, a robotics engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It can afford to learn from mistakes so that it doesn’t have to make the same mistakes again,” Kennedy said.

Robots with learning capabilities may be just decades away, said Brian Wilcox, a robotics engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Learning software has a big advantage over nonlearning programs that must be coded by humans - a process that becomes monstrously complex and requires long lines of computer code when trying to replicate animal or human intelligence on a computer chip.

Humans may find it tough to verify all the lines of code in self-learning machines. But Wilcox suggested that people could still check whether the robots had learned what we wanted them to learn by interacting with them, similar to how parents check up on their preschoolers.

“If we can’t afford to write software in the traditional way and allow them to learn like a human child learns, do it like you do with humans - get to know them and trust them as individuals,” Wilcox said.

Researchers have no shortage of source material for applying bio-inspiration to their robots.

Kennedy pointed to a two-wheel robot with many tiny spines covering the wheels that enable it to drive right up walls or stairs - a mechanical version of how cockroaches climb walls with their spiny legs.

“With biologically inspired technology, you never know where you’ll end up,” Kennedy said.

Published on September 17, 2012

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