Journal article

Connecting Artificial Brains to Robots in a Comprehensive Simulation Framework: The Neurorobotics Platform

Combined efforts in the fields of neuroscience, computer science, and biology allowed to design biologically realistic models of the brain based on spiking neural networks. For a proper validation of these models, an embodiment in a dynamic and rich sensory environment, where the model is exposed to a realistic sensory-motor task, is needed. Due to the complexity of these brain models that, at the current stage, cannot deal with real-time constraints, it is not possible to embed them into a real-world task. Rather, the embodiment has to be simulated as well. While adequate tools exist to simulate either complex neural networks or robots and their environments, there is so far no tool that allows to easily establish a communication between brain and body models. The Neurorobotics Platform is a new web-based environment that aims to fill this gap by offering scientists and technology developers a software infrastructure allowing them to connect brain models to detailed simulations of robot bodies and environments and to use the resulting neurorobotic systems for in silico experimentation. In order to simplify the workflow and reduce the level of the required programming skills, the platform provides editors for the specification of experimental sequences and conditions, environments, robots, and brain-body connectors. In addition to that, a variety of existing robots and environments are provided. This work presents the architecture of the first release of the Neurorobotics Platform developed in subproject 10 "Neurorobotics" of the Human Brain Project (HBP). 1 At the current state, the Neurorobotics Platform allows researchers to design and run basic experiments in neurorobotics using simulated robots and simulated environments linked to simplified versions of brain models. We illustrate the capabilities of the platform with three example experiments: a Braitenberg task implemented on a mobile robot, a sensory-motor learning task based on a robotic controller, and a visual tracking embedding a retina model on the iCub humanoid robot. These use-cases allow to assess the applicability of the Neurorobotics Platform for robotic tasks as well as in neuroscientific experiments.


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