Robots Created Based on Deceptive Behavior of Squirrels and Birds

First Posted: Dec 04, 2012 02:36 AM EST

Taking clues from the deceptive behavioral patterns of squirrels and birds, a team of researchers has incorporated their strategy in developing robots that could be used by the military in the future.

Professor Ronald Arkin and his PhD. student Jaeeun Shim from the Georgia Institute of Technology, carefully analyzed the biological research results that squirrels gather acorns and store them in specific locations. They noticed how the animal patrols the hidden cache by moving back and forth in order to guard its treasure. The moment another squirrel shows up, in order to raid the hiding spot, the hoarding squirrel immediately alters its behavior. It shifts from the true location and heads to an empty cache site, trying to deceive the predator.

This same technique and strategy was implemented in a robotic model. They noticed that the deceptive behavior worked. The deceiving robot attracted the "predator" robot to the false locations, delaying the discovery of the protected resources.

"This application could be used by robots guarding ammunition or supplies on the battlefield," said Arkin, a Regents professor  and the study lead. "If an enemy were present, the robot could change its patrolling strategies to deceive humans or another intelligent machine, buying time until reinforcements are able to arrive."

Moving from the deceptive behavior of the squirrel, professor Arkin along with his student Justin Davis created a simulation and demo based on birds that are able to trick their way to safety.

They noticed that the Arabian babblers in Israel are often in danger of being attacked. Hence, they sometimes join other birds and harass their predator. This mobbing process causes such a commotion that the predator  eventually gives up the attack and leaves.

The researchers tried to check whether a simulated babbler is more likely to survive if it fakes or pretends strength when it doesn't exist. The team's replications, based on biological models of dishonesty and the handicap principle, reveal that deceitfulness is the best strategy when the addition of fraudulent agents pushes the size of the group to the minimum level required to frustrate the predator enough for it to flee. 

"In military operations, a robot that is threatened might feign the ability to combat adversaries without actually being able to effectively protect itself," said Arkin. "Being honest about the robot's abilities risks capture or destruction. Deception, if used at the right time in the right way, could possibly eliminate or minimize the threat."

Arkin is the first to admit that there are serious ethical questions regarding robot deception behavior with humans.

"When these research ideas and results leak outside the military domain, significant ethical concerns can arise," said Arkin. "We strongly encourage further discussion regarding the pursuit and application of research on deception for robots and intelligent machines."

The research is funded by the Office of Naval Research. The research is highlighted in the Nov. and Dec. 2012 edition of IEEE Intelligent Systems.

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