Neuro-robotics as a tool to understand the brain

The Project

Do you want to understand the neuronal substrate of animals by building robots and programming them using neuronal principles? Do you want to understand how learning happens in the brain? By understanding the simplest animals in terms of its neuronal organization, in this course we will use mobile 3D printed robots to learn how to build complex behaviors that are not just reactive responses to a stimulus but that include learning and memory as well.

To understand brains we need to start from the simplest animals: take for example the worm C-Elegans with only 350 neurons, able to look for food, remember food locations and mate. Brains originally evolved for movement: consider as an example phototaxis, the movement away or towards a stimulus or light that can be easily implemented with a robot by directly connecting sensors and motors. These behaviors are considered to be reactive and a direct mapping from sensors to actuation.

In this course we will use mobile 3D printed robots to address how we can build up complex behaviors introducing learning and memory into play. You will be able to add more complex layers of behavior following the structure of the Distributed Adaptive Control (DAC, biologically based control Architecture developed at SPECS). The brain architecture DAC assumes that behavior is organized in layers from reactive, to adaptive (simplest learning) and contextual (including memory and learning).

Using robots, and by following the structure of a neuro-biological control strategy based on DAC, you will learn how to implement a series of increasingly complex tasks such as a foraging task… your robot will be able to search for food like animals do!

Joining this project, you will experience how to build new behaving artefacts using state of art technology and knowledge in neuroscience, robotics and artificial intelligent, really embedded in a transdisciplinary environment. 

Matching profiles

Biology, mathematics, physics, computer sciences, robotics, artificial interlligence

Required materials

Laptop, cell phone (preferably Android)

Coordinator of the project
Vicky Vouloutsi

Vicky Vouloutsi

Vicky Vouloutsi studied Computer Science at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens (Greece) in 2008. She has a Master in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain). She completed her master thesis on biologically inspired computation for chemical sensing (www.neurochem-project.org) using insect-based robots. She has completed her PhD at UPF in SPECS where she became an expert in educational robotics. Her thesis was “Learning from a robot: a study for the creation of synthetic psychologically plausible agents”. She is currently working in SPECS as a PostDoc. 

Associated researchers
Maria Blancas

Maria Blancas

Maria Blancas is a PhD candidate in the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC) and a researcher in the SPECS group at IBEC. Her research is focused on Educational Technologies and Human-Robot Interaction. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Audiovisual Communication from University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona (Spain) and a Master’s Degree in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media from UPF.

Ismael Tito Freire

Ismael Tito Freire Gonzales is a research assistant in the SPECS group at IBEC. He holds a degree in Audiovisual Communication, a Master in Digital Arts (UPF) and a Master in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media (UPF). His main study subjects and expertise are in Cognitive Science & Psychology: Mind, Brain and Behaviour; Systems Design, Integration and Control, Real Time Interaction in artificial systems.

The center

The laboratory of Synthetic Perceptive Emotive Cognitive Systems (SPECS) is part of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), whose mission is to understand mind, brain and behaviour through constructing synthetic perceptive, emotive and cognitive systems.