Rodent-robots in an experiment developed two distinct mating strategies

Evolution of robots' mating strategies

Robots can develop similar mating strategies to living animals, a study by Japanese researchers has revealed.

A team from the Okinawa Institute of Technology established a colony of rodent-like robots equipped with two programmed instincts – to eat and to mate. The robots had to decide whether to more actively look for food in the form of electrical charge obtained through their front electrode teeth from a charging socket or put more energy into finding sexual partners to pass on their genes through an infrared mating point.

According to the study’s results, published in the latest issue of journal PLOS ONE, two distinct strategies evolved in the robot population. 25 per cent of the robotic rodents opted for a foraging strategy investing their energy into searching for food and only mating when a suitable partner came along. The remaining 75 per cent of the robots were actively waiting for mates to show up before foraging for battery.

The wheel-equipped robots were using small cameras to detect both – the source of energy and fellow robots.  

The researchers said the behaviour observed in the robot colony mirrors processes present in populations of real animals, which also opt for either of the two mating strategies.

The team has run a computer simulation to extrapolate data from the experiment to 1,000 generations in a short period of time.

“In this experiment, our robots were hermaphrodites, all robots mate and can produce offspring.  In the next stage, we want to see if the robots will take on male and female roles, by taking different risks and costs in reproduction,” said Stefan Elfwing who led the research team.

“The behaviour exhibited by the two strategies, Forager and Tracker, may be a precursor to the adoption of distinct genders,” he said.

In the experiments where polymorphic populations evolved, the robots had some of the highest fitness, or fastest reproduction, out of all of the experiments.  This indicates that the presence of these different mating strategies in certain proportions provided the best chance for proliferation.

The team believes robots could provide a viable way how to study evolution of behavioural patterns of real animals.

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