The robot fake-out

Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology

Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology

You would expect living creatures to try and pull the wool over one another’s eyes, but robots seem a bit more straightforward. Still, researchers have taught bots to fake out people, animals or other bots.

The general idea comes from watching animal behavior. When hoarding animals such as squirrels start squirreling away (get it?) their stash of reserves, they often pretend to guard other areas that have no food. This is supposed to throw off any other squirrels scheming to get those acorns.

Researchers led by professor Ronald Arkin at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a similarly dishonest robot. Scientists programmed the robot to patrol caches with nothing in them, and a “predator” robot was successfully lured to those spots. The idea is intended for military use. The robot would originally guard the real cache of ammunition or supplies. When it observes any enemy forces it moves to guard fake caches, delaying the discovery of the real cache until backup arrives.

Now, Arkin’s team is looking into another form of animal deception for military robot use: Feigned strength or size. There’s an extremely common instance of this that most of us have observed: When a cat is threatened it turns sideways, arches its back and puffs up its fur, making it appear bigger than it is and hopefully scaring off an attacker.

Arkin is trying to figure out how to use the tactics of another animal that are very different, but achieve the same result. Arabian babblers, birds common in Israel, often form groups when one of their own is threatened and start harassing the predator. Eventually, the predator discovers chasing after one bird isn’t worth the hassle, and leaves. Arkin hasn’t figured out how to apply this to military robot behavior, but it could be his team’s next big project.

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