31.12.05 - Mobile Robots for a Synthetic Approach to Interdisciplinary Research. Dir.: Prof. R. Siegwart

Le Prix de la Fondation Latsis Internationale 2005 est décerné au Dr Francesco Mondada qui a été et est encore un pionnier en robotique expérimentale, ouvrant de nouvelles voies dans l'étude de l'intelligence naturelle et artificielle par sa contribution à l'élaboration de robots mobiles pour les domaines de la robotique bio-inspirée et de l'intelligence embarquée. Des milliers de chercheurs travaillent avec ces outils dans les domaines de la biologie, des neuro-sciences, de la psychologie, de l'informatique et de l'ingénierie.

Mobile Robots for a Synthetic Approach to Interdisciplinary Research

Valentino Braintenberg wrote in 1984 a pioneering book, "Vehicles", describing how mobile robots can be used to validate some biological hypothesis using an approach combining synthesis and analysis. Indeed autonomous mobile robots, by their ability to process sensor information, move and interact with the environment, are a very particular technological object able to mimic the behavior of living organisms.

Engineers are used to apply a synthetic approach to design robots. Biologists are used to analyze their natural creatures. Joining synthesis and analysis on both natural and artificial creatures we can create an interaction allowing to both validate scientific hypothesis on how a natural system work and generate engineering know-how.

This research work is based on the exploitation of mobile robots to ensure this oscillation between analysis and synthesis of animal-like characteristics. This approach has been first applied to the control of generic mobile robots using bio-inspired techniques such as neural networks and genetic algorithms. This first set of experiments had a strong impact on the scientific community and nowadays about 1000 laboratories worldwide are working with the Khepera mobile robot developed in this framework. The synthetic approach has been then applied to robots able to aggregate and form large structures like some social insects, opening a very innovative research direction in the field of swarm robotics. Currently an extension of this methodology has been applied to introduce robots in societies of animals, achieving the control by the robots of part of the animal society behaviors.