A Fish-inspired Robotic Swarm

A team from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has developed fish-inspired robots that can synchronize their movements like a real school of fish, without any external control. According to a SEAS press release, it is the first time scientists have demonstrated complex 3D collective behaviors with implicit coordination in underwater robots. “Robots are often deployed in areas that are inaccessible or dangerous to humans, areas where human intervention might not even be possible”, said Florian Berlinger, a PhD Candidate at SEAS and Wyss in an interview. “In these situations, it really benefits you to have a highly autonomous robot swarm that is self-sufficient.” (SEAS, 13 January 2021) The fish-inspired robotic swarm, dubbed Blueswarm, was created in the lab of Prof. Radhika Nagpal, an expert in self-organizing systems. There are several studies and prototypes in the field of robotic fishs, from CLEANINGFISH (School of Business FHNW) to an invention by Cornell University in New York.

Artificial Intelligence and its Siblings

Artificial intelligence (AI) has gained enormous importance in research and practice in the 21st century after decades of ups and downs. Machine ethics and machine consciousness (artificial consciousness) were able to bring their terms and methods to the public at the same time, where they were more or less well understood. Since 2018, a graphic has attempted to clarify the terms and relationships of artificial intelligence, machine ethics and machine consciousness. It is constantly evolving, making it more precise, but also more complex. A new version has been available since the beginning of 2021. In it, it is made even clearer that the three disciplines not only map certain capabilities (mostly of humans), but can also expand them.

A Mobile Charging Robot

Futurism.com reports that Volkswagen has unveiled a working prototype of a robot that can autonomously charge electric cars. “The Mobile Charging Robot is an adorable squat bot – which, when you get right down to it, is strikingly reminiscent of the R2-D2 droid from ‘Star Wars,’ bleeps and bloops included.” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020) As a result, the service robot becomes a social robot. This may be a benefit for the video, but whether it is necessary in practice remains to be seen. The basic idea is that the robots move to cars that are parked in large residential complexes – and where there is not necessarily a human in the vicinity (and where therefore no social interaction is needed). But the concept is questionable in other respects as well. A mobile energy storage of this type seems to be inefficient: “basically, you’d have to charge the robot’s battery supply which it then uses to charge electric cars” (Futurism.com, 28 December 2020). Nevertheless, the idea should be pursued. Without a doubt, there are logistical advantages to having a robot drive to and charge cars – fewer charging stations are needed, and you can service two vehicles at once.

The Morality Menu Project

From 18 to 21 August 2020, the Robophilosophy conference took place. Due to the pandemic, participants could not meet in Aarhus as originally planned, but only in virtual space. Nevertheless, the conference was a complete success. At the end of the year, the conference proceedings were published by IOS Press, including the paper “The Morality Menu Project” by Oliver Bendel. From the abstract: “The discipline of machine ethics examines, designs and produces moral machines. The artificial morality is usually pre-programmed by a manufacturer or developer. However, another approach is the more flexible morality menu (MOME). With this, owners or users replicate their own moral preferences onto a machine. A team at the FHNW implemented a MOME for MOBO (a chatbot) in 2019/2020. In this article, the author introduces the idea of the MOME, presents the MOBO-MOME project and discusses advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. It turns out that a morality menu could be a valuable extension for certain moral machines.” The book can be ordered on the publisher’s website. An author’s copy is available here.