When we read about experimental robots, we’re used to the phrase “talk” as shorthand for electronic communication between multiple robots. But researcher Ruth Schulz and her team have created a duo of robots designed to create their own spoken language for inter-robot communication.
The two “Lingobots” were placed in a maze-like room, with the space divided by several walls. Once switched on, the robots used their cameras, laser range-finder, and obstacle avoiding sonar to navigate. As they went along, they created words for the spaces they encountered from a database of syllables. For instance, on the map generated by the robots, “jaya” was the center of the room.
But simply creating words was only the beginning. Using microphones and speakers mounted to each Lingobot, the robots can speak and hear the names they’ve created. Using this system, the robots can re-enforce and refine their language by playing “games.” For instance, one robot will say a word they’ve created, and they will both speed off to the space they think matches the word. When they meet at the same place, they agree that this was the proper area.
According to the IEEE Spectrum, this playful approach to language eventually produced remarkable results:
After playing several hundred games to develop their language, the robots agreed on directions within 10 degrees and distances within 0.375 meters. And using just their invented language, the robots created spatial maps (including areas that they were unable to explore) that agree remarkably well
The researchers are hoping to learn more about language, but also ways that robots can learn and teach one another. It could also spur the development of new ways to interact with robots, and also cheap and easy wireless means for communication between robots. Frankly, I won’t worry too much about talking robots until one develops an Austrian accent and declares his intention to return.