Keywords: Paper Track, Evolutionary robotics, Artificial life, Neural CA, Spiking NNs, Embodied intelligence
TL;DR: We propose a novel form of collective control based on Neural Cellular Automata (NCA) and Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs) and apply it to Voxel-based Soft Robots (VSRs); we show that it outperforms state-of-the-art distributed controllers for VSRs.
Abstract: Voxel-based Soft Robots (VSRs) are a form of modular soft robots, composed of several deformable cubes, i.e., voxels. Each VSR is thus an ensemble of simple agents, namely the voxels, which must cooperate to give rise to the overall VSR behavior. Within this paradigm, collective intelligence plays a key role in enabling the emerge of coordination, as each voxel is independently controlled, exploiting only the local sensory information together with some knowledge passed from its direct neighbors (distributed or collective control). In this work, we propose a novel form of collective control, influenced by Neural Cellular Automata (NCA) and based on the bio-inspired Spiking Neural Networks: the embodied Spiking NCA (SNCA). We experiment with different variants of SNCA, and find them to be competitive with the state-of-the-art distributed controllers for the task of locomotion. In addition, our findings show significant improvement with respect to the baseline in terms of adaptability to unforeseen environmental changes, which could be a determining factor for physical practicability of VSRs.