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Over the past sixteen years, researchers at The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, have designed a series of theoretical models, known as Brain-Based Devices (BBDs), to investigate nervous system function. A BBD is a realistic brain model that controls a robotic device performing a behavioral task.
The Institute's researchers believe strongly that the brain does not function in isolation. An organism's brain is closely coupled to its body which actively interacts with its environment. Using BBDs we can perform tests with all of the noise and sophistication of the real world and record the activity from its entire brain, something that is not yet possible to do with live animals.
History and Accomplishments
The Institute's work has yielded revealing insights, e.g. into the importance of self-generated movement in the aquisition of perceptual capability and the role of value or reward systems in adaptation and learning. We have also been able to show that the unique anatomy of a brain region, such as hippocampus, is important for its observed neural function.
The Darwin series of neural automata began in 1981, and were originally software models. Since 1992, these BBDs have had physical bodies that interact with the environment.
In 2000 we developed a BBD body known as NOMAD, for Neurally Organized Mobile Adaptive Device. The NOMAD platform has many sensors, such as a pan-tilt color camera for vision, artificial whiskers for texture sensing, a compass and wheel-encoders for a sense of head direction and self-movement, infra-red transceivers and a laser rangefinder which provide a sense of proximity to objects. NOMAD moves autonomously about its environment in real-time, its behavior controlled by a simulated nervous system running on a set of powerful computers (a Beowulf cluster of up to 64 CPUs). These simulated nervous systems have realistic neuroanatomy, on the order of a hundred thousand neuronal units, and a few million synaptic connections between those units.
In 2004 work began on the Segway platform, a BBD body based on the commercially-available scooter, which is capable of operating outside of a controlled laboratory environment. We are currently working on this and other BBDs that operated in unconstrained, real-world environments.
A model of episodic, spatial, and multimodal memory formation
A model of predictive learning
|Segway Soccer Playing BBD|
Interacting with humans on the field
A BBD performing a classical conditioning task