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Using robots to study evolution

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Posted April 15, 2014
Using robots to study evolution
A new paper by OIST’s Neural Computation Unit has demonstrated the usefulness of robots in studying evolution. Published in PLOS ONE, Stefan Elfwing, a researcher in Professor Kenji Doya’s Unit, has successfully used a colony of rodent-like robots to watch different mating strategies evolve. The work not only generated interesting and unexpected results, but it has also helped validate the use of robots in the study of evolution.

Males and females of different species have different strategies of attracting and selecting mating partners. Evolutionary theory suggests that only one distinct phenotype, in this case referring to mating strategy, should exist within a population. This is because natural selection dictates only the best strategy will survive. However, in nature, we see polymorphic mating strategies, meaning there are multiple ways of mating within one population. How these different mating strategies evolved is debated among evolutionary biologists. Studying the evolution of such behaviors in living populations of complex animals is exceedingly difficult. By using robots and computer simulation, Dr. Elfwing is able to watch evolution happen over 1,000 generations in a short period of time, something that is impossible to do in live animals. This is why some scientists have turned to robots to study evolution and see if they can understand how different behavioral strategies develop within a population.

Dr. Elfwing programmed a small colony of Cyber Rodent robots, which have two wheels, a camera to detect batteries and other robots, electrode teeth to recharge from batteries, and an infrared port for ‘mating,’ which is to copy their ‘genes,’or the essential parameters of the program

Read more at: Phys.org

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