Wildlife Critters Inspire Scientists To Build Deceptive Robots
December 4, 2012

Crafty Wildlife Critters Inspire Scientists To Build Deceptive Robots

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have used the deceptive behavior patterns of squirrels and birds to develop robots that are able to deceive each other. Professor Ronald Arkin, who led the study, suggests the applications could be implemented by the military in the future.

Arkin and his team reviewed biological research results to learn that squirrels gather acorns and store them in specific locations. The squirrels then routinely go back and forth, checking and patrolling the hidden caches until another squirrel shows up hoping to raid the acorn stashes. The hoarding squirrel then changes its behavior, visiting empty cache sites, in order to deceive the would-be thief.

The team implemented the same strategy into a robot model and demonstration, revealing that the deceptive behaviors worked. The deceiving robot lured the predator robot away from protected resources to false locations. The findings of this study are highlighted in the journal IEEE Intelligent Systems.

“This application could be used by robots guarding ammunition or supplies on the battlefield,” said Arkin, a Regents Professor in Georgia Tech´s School of Interactive Computing. “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.”

Arkin's team created a simulation and demo based on birds who bluff their way to safety as well. Arabian babblers in Israel, in danger of being attacked, will sometimes join other birds and harass their predator. The predator eventually gives up the attack and leaves because the mobbing process causes such a commotion.

The simulation examines whether a simulated babbler is more likely to survive by faking strength that doesn´t exist. based on biological models of dishonesty and the handicap principle, the simulation shows that deception is the best strategy if the addition of the deceitful birds pushes the size of the group to a size necessary to frustrate the predator enough to make it leave. Arkin says the reward for deceit in a few of the agents sometimes outweighs the risks of not fleeing.

“In military operations, a robot that is threatened might feign the ability to combat adversaries without actually being able to effectively protect itself,” Arkin said in a statement. “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.”

Deception has played a major role in wartime efforts from the Trojan Horse to D-Day. There is, in fact, an entire Army field manual on the use of deception and its value on the battlefield.

Arkin is the first to admit, however, that there are serious ethical issues regarding robot deceptive 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.”

This is not Arkin's first foray into the area of robotic deception. He and Georgia Tech Research Institute Research Engineer Alan Wagner studied how robots could use deceptive behavior to hide from humans or other intelligent machines in 2010.