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Robot brains

What does a 'robot brain' actually mean? In this article, Professor Richard Mitchell explains more.
A student holding a small robot at the University of Reading
© University of Reading

So a robot has sensors and actuators. But what decides whether the robot should find out how far away an object is? Or whether the robot should set its motor speeds at set values?

In humans, it is our brain – a very complicated system that we don’t fully understand. Other animals have brains – though simpler. Robots need brains too.

You might assume that the robot brain is a computer – and certainly many robots have computers.

A computer, however, does not operate like a human brain. It is a complicated set of electronic circuitry which performs many millions of operations each second.

In contrast, robot brains are much simpler – and operate much more slowly. The basic part of a brain is a neuron which performs simple operations about 1,000 times a second. What makes human brains so powerful is the fact that it has billions of these neurons connected together – a so-called neural network. In Artificial Intelligence, we sometimes create artificial neural networks, and they can perform certain tasks.

But for robots, only a few neurons can be sufficient to perform simple tasks such as following or avoiding lights as we shall see in Week 4. And interestingly, the first robots at Reading did not have a computer at all.

Are you surprised to find out how few neurons a robot needs to complete simple tasks? Share you thoughts in the discussion. Remember you can also ‘like’ comments made by others.

© University of Reading
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