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A bug's life

A fresh breed of consumer robots is putting a new spin on AI technology, and, coming cheap as chips, promises to give more sophisticated rival robo-pets a run for their money.

This creepy quartet of bugs are out to give the approach to artificial intelligence embraced in rival robo darlings such as AIBO a run for its money. And with a retail price equivalent to only one thirty-seventh of those pricier electro-pets, it’s a run to be reckoned with.

While the traditional approach to AI relies on processors and complex programming to function as a brain and thus respond to the environment, B.I.O Bugs, on the other hand, rely on much simpler — and cheaper — computing technology.

Whilst they do contain several basic chips, they are modelled upon the breed of robots that use relatively uncomplicated elctronics circuitry to create “nervous networks”.

It is then left to these networks to develop and produce emergent, life-like behaviours. Rather like an ultra-simplified version of Steve Grand’s orang-utan baby, Lucy.

Mark Tilden, bug designer and roboticist/physicist at federal labs in New Mexico, explained his ‘brainless’ approach: “Ninety-nine percent of creatures on this planet do very well without any brain at all. I’ve tapped into how they do that.”

For robots that come cheap as chips, the bugs get up to some impressive mischief. “They’re wired to learn,” explained toy expert Chris Byrne. “You can put them in a box, and it can be stymied, then learn to climb out and it will remember the next time.”

Each of the four bug species, Predator, Acceleraider, Destroyer and Stomper, has its own special talent, and they have a penchant for fighting.

A hand controller is included so the master can impose his or her authority, but the bugs will just as happily crawl about on their own, exploring and learning. But be warned! If you ignore the bug it will give out a death scream, and if you play too rough, it plays back rougher.

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