How Perception, Actuation, and Communication Impact on the Emergence of Collective Intelligence in Simulated Modular Robots




Francesco Rusin, Eric Medvet


Artificial Life
(rank Q3 in Artificial Intelligence)




To appear

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Abstract #

Modular robots are collections of simple embodied agents, the modules, that interact with each other in order to achieve complex behaviors. Each module may have a limited capability of perceiving the environment and performing actions: nevertheless, by behaving coordinately, and possibly by sharing information, modules can collectively perform complex actions. In principle, the greater the actuation, perception, and communication ability of the single module, the more effective the collection of modules. However, improved abilities also correspond to more complex controllers and, hence, larger search spaces when designing them by means of optimization. In this paper, we analyze the impact of perception, actuation, and communication abilities on the possibility of obtaining good controllers for simulated modular robots, i.e., controllers that allow the robots to exhibit collective intelligence. We consider the case of modular soft robots, where modules can contract, expand, attach, and detach from each other, and make them face two tasks (locomotion and piling), optimizing their controllers with evolutionary computation. We observe that limited abilities often do not prevent the robots to succeed in the task, a finding that we explain with (a) the smaller search space corresponding to limited actuation, perception, and communication abilities, which makes the optimization easier, and (b) the fact that, for this kind of robots, morphological computation plays a significant role. Moreover, we discover that what matters more is the degree of collectivity the robots are required to exhibit when facing the task.