Rewards give robot human touch

August 4, 2000

Robots that behave like humans are a step closer to being developed thanks to research at Staffordshire University, writes Tim Greenhalgh.

Alex Kleiner, a postgraduate student studying for an MSc in computer science, has developed software that uses punishments and rewards to teach a miniature robot to explore its surroundings and avoid obstacles.

If the 5cm robot avoids an obstacle, it is rewarded with an electronic pat on the back - a zero is entered into its databank. If it fails to avoid a collision, it is punished with a minus one.

Mr Kleiner said: "Traditional artificial intelligence research has relied on programming a robot to respond to certain situations in a certain way. But in the real world so many different things can happen.

"It would be impossible to give a robot instructions to cope with an infinite amount of possibilities. The human brain makes generalisations so we do not have to learn how to react to every eventuality, and the software I am developing tries to teach the robot the same technique."

Mr Kleiner's work was shown at the international conference on Enterprise Information Systems at Staffordshire University.

University website: www.staffs.ac.uk

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