Robot tadpole mating. That's what a team of vertebrate physiologists at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. have been using to investigate the evolution of vertebrae. These little robot tadpoles -- lovingly named "Tadros" -- are modeled after the larvae of sea creatures called "sea squirts": each has an electronic eye, motor, computer brain, and gelatinous tail of varying lengths and stiffness. By racing the Tadros towards a light in 8-foot fish tanks and recording the results, the scientists have been able to carry out a simulated form of evolution by electronically mating each Tadros and producing a next-generation that shares the attributes of its two "parents." Over 10 generations of robot tadpole "relations," the scientists found that the tails became stiffer as the swimming performance improved. Apparently this stiffness accounts for only 40% of the improvements in swimming performance: further investigations will ascertain which factors account for the remaining 60%. Next, the team hopes to add a "hunter" to the tank which the Tadros can avoid using infrared sensors, to mimic the pressure sensitive organs of fish. Evolution emulating robot-tadpoles today, giant killer robot-frogs tomorrow?

[Thanks, Rod L.]

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Robotic tadpoles emulate evolution