When people or animals get hurt, they can usually compensate for minor
injuries and keep limping along, but for robots, even slight damage can make them
stumble and fall. Now a robot scarcely larger than a human hand has demonstrated a
novel ability: It can recover from damage -- an innovation that could make robots
The new robot, which looks like a splay-legged, four-footed starfish, deduces
the shape of its own body by performing a series of playful movements, swiveling its
four limbs. By using sensors to record resulting changes in the angle of its body, it
gradually generates a computerized image of itself. The robot then uses this to plan
out how to walk forward.
The researchers hope similar robots will someday respond not only to damage
to their own bodies but also to changes in the surrounding environment. Such
responsiveness could lend autonomy to robotic explorers on other planets like Mars --
a helpful feature, since such robots can't always be in contact with human controllers
on earth. Aside from practical value, the robot's abilities suggest a similarity to human
thinking as the robot tries out various actions to figure out the shape of its world.