One of the bits of M366 Block 5 that I really enjoyed was the section about Braitenberg vehicles. They are amazing! Especially compared to the big, complicated subsumption-based systems that we learned about in Block 3 – these awesome little Braitenberg vehicles have no internal processing modules, just connections between the sensors and the motors, and yet they can behave in a surprisingly complex manner.

I really like this video featuring Type 2 Braitenberg vehicles built with Lego Mindstorms. Type 2 vehicles have excitatory connections between the sensors and motors; in the Type 2a vehicle, the left sensor is connected to the left motor, and the right sensor to the right motor, whereas in the Type 2b the connections are crossed. A simple variation, but the difference in behaviour is impressive:


But even more impressive is the behaviour produced by the Type 3a and 3b vehicles, which have inhibitory connections rather than excitatory ones – I can’t say a great deal about the Type 3 vehicles because one of the questions in TMA04 involves writing a report about them (and I don’t think the OU would be happy with me reusing my report as a blog post!), but if you’re interested in the Type 2a and 2b vehicles, I would definitely recommend looking into the Type 3 vehicles too.

As part of the TMA, we’re using an online Braitenberg vehicle simulator, which allows you to run experiments with various arrangements of vehicles and light sources. For example, here’s a screenshot of what happens when you put a Type 2b vehicle in an environment with three lights in a triangle formation:

Kind of reminds me of a Spirograph picture! Anyway, the simulator is lots of fun, definitely worth playing with if you’re interested in this kind of robot.

So, now that I’m almost done with TMA04, I’ll be getting back to MS221 for the next few weeks (complex numbers, here I come!). But I can’t resist one last video of a Braitenberg vehicle, before I hit the maths books – especially since this one indulges both my love of robots and my love of arthropods:

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