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A Robotic Ecosystem


The Basic Ecosystem

The basic idea of this ecosystem was developed by Luc Steels and David McFarland. The implementation and the further development of the ecosystem was done at the AI-lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. The basic version of this artificial ecosystem consists of

the charging-station
where robots can autonomously re-load their batteries. The charging-station is equipped with a bright white light on top as a kind of landmark.
simple mobile robots
which are equipped with basic behaviors for e.g. obstacle avoidance. In addition, they do phototaxis towards the charging station and towards
the competitors
boxes housing lamps connected to the same global energy source as the charging station. The modulated light of these lamps can be dimmed by other inhabitants of the ecosystem by knocking against the boxes. The competitors establish a kind of working task which is paid in energy.

The mechanical design of the different robots in the ecosystem is very simple and imprecise, as it is based on on toy-construction-kits like e.g. LEGOTMand FischertechnikTM. But on the electronics side, the robots are equipped with elaborated on-board control-computers.

The software controlling the autonomous operation of the robots is based on the so-called behavior-oriented approach. A behavior is a software-module that establishes a close link between sensor values and motor activations. All behaviors run in parallel and their effect on the motors is simply added up. There is no global control or arbitration mechanism.

This leads to so-called emergent phenomena, which are kind of side-effects from the superposition of different behaviors and their interactions with the robots environment. For example, the task for moles to "fight" the competitors is not explicitly programmed into the robots. Instead, it emerges out of the phototaxis towards the modulated light and the touch-based obstacle-avoidance. Due to the phototaxis, the robots are kind of attracted by the competitors. Consequently, they drive towards them, they bump into them, the touch-based obstacle-avoidance causes them to retract, they are attracted again, and so on. As a result, a robot bumps several times into a competitor until the competitor dims and the attraction is gone. Note, that the number of bumps is not explicitly programmed and that there is an automatic adaptation to the "strength" of the competitors.

The Extended Ecosystem

An extended version of the ecosystem features an additional inhabitant, the so-called "head". It consists of a camera on a pan-tilt-unit and it has quite some vision capabilities. As it is not mobile, the head cannot access the charging-station and it is forced to cooperate.

Some Research Topics in the Ecosystem

Though the basic idea of this artificial ecosystem is rather simple, it provides many possibilities for research on various subjects related to autonomous systems, including basic economic concepts, learning, heterogeneous agents, and many more. The ecosystem can for example be modelled by an N-player prisoners' dilemma and it can hence serve for the study of the evolution, respectively learning of cooperation. Below a few references related to my contributions in this ecosystem research. Note that the online papers are draft versions of the actual publications for which references are given.

Related Publications

Andreas Birk
The Evolution of Cooperation in Groups with up to 25 Agents
Artificial Intelligence and Applications, AIA,
ACTA Press, 2004

Andreas Birk
Learning to Cooperate via a Selectionist Algorithm
Artificial Intelligence and Applications, AIA,
ACTA Press, 2004

Andreas Birk and Julie Wiernik
An N-Players Prisoner’s Dilemma in a Robotic Ecosystem (bibtex)
Robotics and Autonomous Systems
Volume 39, pp. 223-233
Elsevier Science, 2002

Andreas Birk, Holger Kenn, and Luc Steels
Programming with Behavior Processes (bibtex)
Robotics and Autonomous Systems
Volume 39, pp. 115-127
Elsevier Science, 2002

Tony Belpaeme and Andreas Birk
Hungry Robots (bibtex)
ACM Crossroads, Winter 8.2,
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 2001

Andreas Birk
Learning to Trust (bibtex)
R. Falcone, M. Singh, and Y. Tan (Eds.),
Trust in Cyber-society: Integrating Human and Machine Perspective,
LNAI 2246 Springer, 2001

Andreas Birk
Boosting Cooperation by Evolving Trust (bibtex)
Applied Artificial Intelligence Journal,
Volume 14, Number 8, pp 769 - 784
Taylor and Francis, 2000
Andreas Birk
Boosting Cooperation by Evolving Trust (bibtex)
Applied Artificial Intelligence Journal,
Volume 14, Number 8, pp 769 - 784
Taylor and Francis, 2000

Andreas Birk, Holger Kenn and Thomas Walle
On-board Control in the RoboCup Small Robots League (bibtex)
Advanced Robotics Journal,
Volume 14, Number 1, pp 27 - 36
VSP International Science Publishers, 2000

M. Asada, A. Birk, E. Pagello, M. Fujita, I. Noda, S. Tadokoro, D. Duhaut, P. Stone, M. Veloso, T. Balch, H. Kitano, and B. Thomas
Progress in Robot World Cup Soccer (RoboCup) Research Issues in 2000
Experimental Robotics VII, Lecture Notes in Control and Information Sciences
Springer, 2000

Andreas Birk, Wolfgang Paul
Schemas and Genetic Programming (bibtex)
Ritter, Cruse, Dean (Eds.),
Prerational Intelligence: Adaptive Behavior and Intelligent Systems without Symbols and Logic,
Volume II, Studies in Cognitive Systems 36,
Kluwer, 2000

Minoru Asada, Raffaello D'Andrea, Andreas Birk, Hiroaki Kitano, and Manuela Veloso
Robotics in Edutainment
Proc. of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, ICRA’00
IEEE Press, 2000

Andreas Birk and Holger Kenn
Programming with Behavior Processes
In Proc. of the International Symposium on Intelligent Robotic Systems,
SIRS, 2000

Andreas Birk and Julie Wiernik
A N-Player Prisoner's Dilemma in a Robotic Ecosystem
In Proc. of the International Symposium on Intelligent Robotic Systems,
SIRS, 2000

M. Asada, A. Birk, E. Pagello, M. Fujita, I. Noda, S. Tadokoro, D. Duhaut, P. Stone, M. Veloso, T. Balch, H. Kitano and B. Thomas
Progress in RoboCup Soccer Research in 2000
In Proc. of the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics,
ISER, 2000

Andreas Birk, Holger Kenn and Luc Steels
Efficient Behavioral Processes
From Animals to Animats 6, Proceedings Supplement Book,
SAB, 2000

Andreas Birk and Julie Wiernik
Partner-based Strategies for a Real-World Instance of the N-Players Prisoner’s Dilemma with Continuous Degrees of Cooperation
From Animals to Animats 6, Proceedings Supplement Book,
SAB, 2000

Andreas Birk, Thomas Walle, Tony Belpaeme, Holger Kenn
The VUB AI-Lab RoboCup'99 small league team
Veloso, Pagello, and Kitano (Eds.);
RoboCup ’99: Robot soccer World Cup III, LNAI
Springer, 1999

Andreas Birk, Holger Kenn
Heterogeneity and On-Board Control in the Small Robots League (bibtex)
Veloso, Pagello, and Kitano (Eds.)
RoboCup ’99: Robot soccer World Cup III, LNAI
Springer, 1999

Andreas Birk
Robot-Learning and Self-Sufficiency: What the Energy-Level Can Tell us About a Robot’s Performance
Birk and Demiris (Eds.),
Learning Robots, LNAI 1545
Springer, 1998

Andreas Birk, Tony Belpaeme
A Multi-Agent-System based on Heterogeneous Robots
Drogoul, Tambe, and Fukuda (Eds.),
Collective Robotics, LNAI 1456
Springer, 1998

Andreas Birk
Behavior-based Robotics, its Scope and its Prospects
Proc. of The 24th Annual conference of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society
IEEE Press, 1998

Andreas Birk, Tony Belpaeme
An Overview of the Extended VUB Ecosystem, a MAS of Heterogeneous Robots
Proc. of the International Conference on Multi Agent Systems
IEEE Press, 1998

Andreas Birk
Learning of an Anticipatory World-Model and the Quest for General versus Reinforced Knowledge
Proc. of The First Int. Conf. on Anticipatory Systems, American Inst. of Physics Publications
AIP Press, 1998

Andreas Birk, Julie Wiernik
Economic Aspects of a Real-World Ecosystem Featuring Several Robot Species
Proc. of The 2nd Workshop on Economics with Heterogeneous Interacting Agents
Edward Elgar Pub., 1998

Tony Belpaeme, Andreas Birk
On the Watch
Proc. of The 30th International Symposium on Automotive Technology and Automation
ISATA Press, 1997

Andreas Birk
Autonomous Recharging of Mobile Robots
Proc. of The 30th International Symposium on Automotive Technology and Automation
ISATA Press, 1997


Andreas Birk