Keeping that in mind, researchers at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have recently announced success in digitally simulating these brain cells and use them on robots. The results: like a human, these robots began showing signs of natural navigation skills!
“Artificial grid cells could provide an adaptive and robust mapping and navigation system. Humans and animals have an instinctual ability to navigate freely and deliberately in an environment rather effortlessly.”
– Dr. Haizhou Li (via MIT Technology Review)
Led by Dr. Haizhou Li, who is a professor at A*STAR, the researchers decided simulate the neurons by creating a simple two-dimensional model of the cells in software, which would then be used to help navigate a small-wheeled robot. Once they set loose the robot in a 35-square-meter office space, the robot began showing signs of natural navigation, finding its way around the office over time without any human aid. When analyzing the basic neural network they engineered as the robot began navigating itself, they could see similar acts of artificial neurons firing off as they would in a biological brain.
While the robot’s neural network was by no means a match to the complexity of an actual human brain, what the researchers had shown was that, despite the brain’s complexity as a whole, the subset of neurons which make up a biological brain can be simulated rather successfully using digital components and be used to help increase the complexity and efficiency in automated machines. This opens up many avenues of research for the future of robotics, including those who may very well walk amongst us in a decade’s time, enjoying life as we’ve come to enjoy it as well.