The Phi-Bot: A Robot Controlled by a Slime Mould
Information processing in natural systems radically differs from current information technology. This difference is particularly apparent in the area of robotics, where both the organisms and artificial devices face a similar challenge: the need to act in real time in a complex environment and to do so with computing resources severely limited by their size and power consumption. Biological systems evolved enviable computing capabilities to cope with noisy and harsh environments and to compete with rivalling life forms. Information processing in biological systems, from single-cell organisms to brains, directly utilises the physical and chemical processes of cellular and intracellular dynamics, whereas that in artificial systems is, in principle, independent of any physical implementation. The formidable gap between artificial and natural systems in terms of information processing capability  motivates research into biological modes of information processing. Hybrid artifacts, for example, try to overcome the theoretic and physical limits of information processing in solid-state realisations of digital von Neumann machines by exploiting the self-organisation of naturally evolved systems in engineered environments [2, 3].
This chapter presents a particular unconventional computing system, the Φ-bot, whose control is based on the behaviour of the true slime mould Physarum polycephalum. The second section gives a short introduction to the information-processing capabilities of this organism. The third section describes the two generations of the Φ-bot built so far. To discuss information-theoretic aspects of this robot, it is useful to sketch the concept of bounded computability that relates generic traits of information-processing systems with specific physico-chemical constraints on the realisation of such systems in different classes of computational media. This is done in the fourth section. The concluding section gives an outlook on engineering as well as foundational issues that will be important for the future development of the Φ-bot.
KeywordsAutonomous Robot Physarum Polycephalum Syntactic Representation Organic Code Computational Medium
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.Conrad, M.: The importance of molecular hierarchy in information preocessing. In: C.H. Waddington (ed.) Towards a theoreritcal biology, vol. 4, pp. 222–228. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh (1972)Google Scholar
- 2.Adamatzky, A., Costello, B., Asai, T.: Reaction-diffusion computers. Elsevier Science, New York, NY, USA (2005)Google Scholar
- 4.Wohlfarth-Bottermann, K.E.: Oscillatory contraction activity in physarum. The Journal of Experimental Biology 81, 15–32 (1979)Google Scholar
- 18.Wohlfarth-Botterman, K.E.: Oscillating contractions in protoplasmic strands of physarum: Simultaneous tensiometry of logitudinal and radial rhythms, periodicity analysis and temperature dependence. Journal of Experimental Biology 67, 49–59 (1977)Google Scholar
- 19.Macey, P.: Impedance spectroscopy based interfacing with a living cell for biosensors and bio-coporcessors. Part III Project Report, School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton (2007)Google Scholar
- 20.Jones, G.: Robotic platform for molecular controlled robots. Part III Project Report, School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton (2006)Google Scholar
- 24.Braitenberg, V.: Vehicles: Experiments in synthetic psychology. MIT, Cambridge, MA (1984)Google Scholar
- 27.Simon, H.: Models of Bounded Rationality, 3 vols. MIT, Cambridge, MA (1982/1997)Google Scholar
- 28.Tsuda, S., Zauner, K.P., Gunji, Y.P.: Computing substrates and life. In: S. Artmann, P. Dittrich (eds.) Explorations in the Complexity of Possible Life: Abstracting and Synthesizing the Principles of Living Systems, Proceedings of the 7th German Workshop on Artificial Life, pp. 39–49. IOS, Jena, Germany (2006)Google Scholar
- 29.Artmann, S.: Biological information. In: S. Sarkar, A. Plutynski (eds.) A companion to the philosophy of biology, pp. 22–39. Blackwell, Malden, MA (2008)Google Scholar
- 30.Morris, C.: Writings on the general theory of signs. Mouton, Den Haag and Paris (1971)Google Scholar
- 31.Hopcroft, J.E., Motwani, R., Ullman, J.D.: Introduction to automata theory, languages, and computation, 3rd edn. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (2007)Google Scholar
- 33.Barbieri, M.: Organic Codes: An introduction to semantic biology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2003)Google Scholar
- 35.MacKay, D.: Information, mechanism and meaning. MIT, Cambridge, MA (1969)Google Scholar
- 36.Lewis, D.: Convention: a philosophical study, 1st edn. Harvard University Press, Princeton, New Jersey (1968)Google Scholar
- 37.Aono, M., Hara, M.: Amoeba-based nonequilibrium neurocomputer utilizing fluctuations and instability. In: 6th International Conference, UC 2007, LNCS, vol. 4618, pp. 41–54. Springer, Kingston, Canada (2007)Google Scholar
- 38.Nomura, S.: Symbolization of an object and its freedom in biological systems. Ph.D. thesis, Kobe University (2001)Google Scholar
- 40.Revilla, F., Zauner, K.P., Morgan, H.: Physarum polycephalum on a chip. In: J.L. Viovy, P. Tabeling, S. Descroix, L. Malaquin (eds.) The proceedings of μTAS 2007, vol. 2, pp. 1089–1091 (2007)Google Scholar