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Neuromorphic and brain-based robots are not encapsulated in a single field with its own journal or conference. Rather, the field crosses many disciplines, and groundbreaking neuromorphic robot research is carried out in computer science, engineering, neuroscience, and many other departments. The field is known by many names: biologically inspired robots, brain-based devices, cognitive robots, neuromorphic engineering, neurobots, neurorobots, and many more. Arguably, the field may have begun with William Grey Walter’s turtles, created in the 1950s, whose simple yet interesting behaviors were guided by an analog electronic nervous system. Another landmark was the fascinating thought experiments in the book by Valentino Braitenberg, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. Braitenberg’s Vehicles inspired a generation of hobbyists and scientists, present company included, to use synthetic methodology (Braitenberg’s term) to study brain, body, and behavior together. We like to think of synthetic methodology as “understanding through building” and it is certainly an apt mission statement for neuromorphic and brain-based robots.
Neuromorphic and brain-based robotics have enormous potential for furthering our understanding of the brain. By embodying models of the brain on robotic platforms, researchers can investigate the roots of biological intelligence and work towards the development of truly intelligent machines. This book provides a broad introduction to this groundbreaking area for researchers from a wide range of fields, from engineering to neuroscience. Case studies explore how robots are being used in current research, including a whisker system that allows a robot to sense its environment and neurally inspired navigation systems that show impressive mapping results. Looking to the future, several chapters consider the development of cognitive, or even conscious robots that display the adaptability and intelligence of biological organisms. Finally, the ethical implications of intelligent robots are explored, from morality and Asimov's three laws to the question of whether robots have rights.
One of the most amazing aspects of brain function is that free will and consciousness emerges from the simple elemental functions of neurons. How do a hundred billion neurons produce global functions, such as intention, mind, and consciousness? As gathering a billion people is not equal to making a civilized society, the brain is not merely a combination of neurons. There would be rules of relation and principles of action. I have been interested for many years in the neurodynamics of situated cognition and contextual decision making, particularly focusing on synchronization mechanisms in the brain. Neural synchronization is well known in spinal motor coordination (e.g. central pattern generators, CPG), circadian rhythms and EEG recordings of human brain activities during mental tasks. Synchronized population activity plays functional roles in memory formation and context-dependent utilization of personal experiences in animal models. However, those experiments and models have dealt with a specific brain circuit in a fixed condition, or at least less attention has been given to an embodied view, where the brain, body, and environment comprise a closed whole loop. The embodied view is the natural setting for a brain functioning in the real world. I have recently become interested in building an online and on-demand experimental platform to link the robotic body with its neurodynamics. This platform is implemented in a remote computer and gives us the advantage of studying brain functions in a dynamic environment, and to offer qualitative analyses of behavioral time, in contradistinction to neuronal time, or mental time. This chapter relates past work to present work in an informal way that might be uncommon in journal papers. By taking advantage of this opportunity, I will use informal speech and explanations, as well as personal anecdotes to guide the reader to understand important trends and perspectives in this topic. Section 12.1 gives an introduction to artificial systems that makes a commitment to biology, and argues a point of biologically inspired robotics in the viewpoint of being life. Section 12.2 overviews the multiple memory systems of the brain in terms of conscious awareness. Section 12.3 describes robotic methodologies by using neural dynamics of oscillatory components to enable the system to provide online decision making in cooperation with involuntary motor controls, and discusses necessities for future work. Section 12.4 summarizes key concepts and future perspectives.
The genesis for this book came about from a series of conversations, over a period of several years, between Jeff Krichmar and Hiro Wagatsuma. Initially, these conversations began when Krichmar was at The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego and Wagatsuma was at the Riken Brain Science Institute near Tokyo. They included discussions at each other’s institutes, several conversations and workshops at conferences, and an inspiring trip to a Robotics Exhibition at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. In these conversations, we realized that we shared a passion for understanding the inner workings of the brain through computational neuroscience and embodied models. Moreover, we realized that: (1) there was a small, but growing, community of like-minded individuals around the world, and (2) there was a need to publicize this line of research to attract more scientists to this young field. Therefore, we contacted many of the top researchers around the world in Neuromorphic and Brain-Based Robotics. The requirements were that the researchers should be interested in some aspect of the brain sciences, and were using robotic devices as an experimental tool to further our understanding of the brain. We have been thrilled at the positive response. We know we have not included everyone in this field and apologize for any omissions. However, we feel that the contributed chapters in this book are representative of the most important areas in this line of research, and that they represent the state-of-the-art in the field at this time. We sincerely hope this book will inspire and attract a new generation of neuromorphic and brain-based roboticists.