Using evolutionary artificial neural networks to design hierarchical animat nervous systems.
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The research presented in this thesis examines the area of control systems for robots or animats (animal-like robots). Existing systems have problems in that they require a great deal of manual design or are limited to performing jobs of a single type. For these reasons, a better solution is desired. The system studied here is an Artificial Nervous System (ANS) which is biologically inspired; it is arranged as a hierarchy of layers containing modules operating in parallel. The ANS model has been developed to be flexible, scalable, extensible and modular. The ANS can be implemented using any suitable technology, for many different environments. The implementation focused on the two lowest layers (the reflex and action layers) of the ANS, which are concerned with control and rhythmic movement. Both layers were realised as Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) which were created using Evolutionary Algorithms (EAs). The task of the reflex layer was to control the position of an actuator (such as linear actuators or D.C. motors). The action layer performed the task of Central Pattern Generators (CPG), which produce rhythmic patterns of activity. In particular, different biped and quadruped gait patterns were created. An original neural model was specifically developed for assisting in the creation of these time-based patterns. It is shown in the thesis that Artificial Reflexes and CPGs can be configured successfully using this technique. The Artificial Reflexes were better at generalising across different actuators, without changes, than traditional controllers. Gaits such as pace, trot, gallop and pronk were successfully created using the CPGs. Experiments were conducted to determine whether modularity in the networks had an impact. It has been demonstrated that the degree of modularization in the network influences its evolvability, with more modular networks evolving more efficiently.