Jul 26, 2017

Online evolution lets robots learn, adapt and cooperate

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Robots are normally only good at the task they are programmed to do. Now, scientists have programmed robotic controllers to learn to avoid obstacles and cooperate by mimicking Darwinian evolution.

Just like genes, the robot's programming could mutate and be selected upon. Additionally, like in evolution, the robots could co-opt previous parts of their programming to find solutions more quickly. Because the robots were connected online, when they were close together they were also able to exchange their evolving robo-genomes.

Why it matters: Robots are usually only programmed for one task, and when confronted with an obstacle, they can falter. Online evolution allows them to adapt and learn to find solutions outside of their programming.

"It is not directly analogous to nature, but it is inspired by nature," Luís Correia, a scientist at the University of Lisbon in Portugal and an author of the study told Axios.

What they did: In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the scientists gave the robots three tasks: avoiding obstacles while moving in as fast as possible with little detours, searching for and finding a small target, and a cooperative task that involved gathering together. Robots that had evolved solutions to the cooperative aggregation task then had faults that mimicked hardware problems injected into their programming to see if the robots could evolve work-arounds.

The bottom line: In the past, online evolution in real-world robots wasn't feasible because there wasn't enough processing power, so learning took days. (Imagine a robot running into an obstacle over and over again, damaging itself as it slowly evolves the programming to go around.) But these real-life robots were given an hour to complete their tasks, and appear to be able to adapt to damage acquired while learning. Although the tasks were very simple, this shows that online evolution is another viable type of robot learning and might let them address more complex tasks in the future.

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Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,651,254 — Total deaths: 97,850 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.