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Combining a Human Brain with Rat Eyes for Better Navigation

Michael Milford with one of the robots he plans to use with his human-rat hybrid navigation system. Photo Courtesy of Queensland University of Technology.
Michael Milford with a robot he will use with his human-rat hybrid navigation system. Photo Courtesy of Queensland University of Technology.

Roboticists often look to the living world for guidance on locomotion. There are countless robots designed to move like animals: some run like cheetahs, others slither like snakes, and a few even fly like insects.

Michael Milford thinks roboticists should consider a two-pronged, biomimetic approach to navigation, too. Specifically, Milford thinks combining an algorithm that mimics the brain of a human, with an algorithm for the eyes of a rat could drastically improve robotic navigation. As chief investigator of the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Robotic Vision, Milford intends to do just that.

“This is a very Frankenstein type of project. It’s putting two halves of a thing together,” Milford says in a press release. “A rodent’s spatial memory is strong but has very poor vision, while humans can easily recognize where they are because of eyesight.”

Sophisticated models of both systems already exist, he says. But they still need to be combined. “We’ve got all the ground work there but plugging them altogether is the massive challenge we have,” he says.

A new paper written by Milford and colleague Ruth Schulz makes the case for such goal-directed, biomimetic models for spatial navigation, and outlines the key principles for such an approach.

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