Discovering Living Machines

The Fifth International Conference on Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems was held in Edinburgh, Scotland (UK), July 19th to 22nd, 2016.

POSTER LM2016_cropThis follows the 4 editions of the Living Machines conference that were held in Barcelona in 2012, London in 2013, Milan in 2014 and in Barcelona again in 2015. These international conferences are targeted at the intersection of research on novel life-like technologies based on the scientific investigation of biological systems, or biomimetics, and research that seeks to interface biological and artificial systems to create biohybrid systems.

The aim of the conference is to highlight the most exciting international research in both of these fields united by the theme of “Living Machines”. This year Living Machines took place in Edinburgh, at Dynamic Earth, a venue that reminds us how much our community has developed and continues to evolve and grow.

The spirit of the conference is more than just practicing biomimetics and/or biohybridity in isolation to engineer new technologies – it is equally about using natural design principles to extend our understanding of the natural world, and of our place in it.

Victoria Webster. CWRU

Biohybrid Robot @LM2016. Victoria Webster. CWRU

Living Machines promotes the idea that in order to build novel advanced artifacts, such as robots, we need to understand, not only mimic, nature and life and base new technologies on the same fundamental principles. This idea also dominated the interest and curiosity of one of the greatest geniuses of the renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci, who was the first to establish a synergy between fundamental science and engineering or in his own words:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

 The conference kicks off with 1 day Workshops event on July 19th hosted at the School of Informatics of University of Edinburgh. The workshops discussed the following themes:

LM2016 Workshops Edinburgh, UK

  • Our Future with Living Machines: Societal, Economic, and Ecological Impacts.
  • Living machines that grow, evolve, self-heal, and develop: how robots adapt their morphology to the environment.
  • Teaching Practices in Biologically Informed Design.
  • The Emergence of Biological Architecture.

The main conference, together with the poster and demo sessions, was hosted at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, Scotland and takes the form of a three- day single-track programme (20 -22 July) including 20 oral, 10 poster spotlight and 41 poster presentations together with 5 plenary lectures from leading international researchers in biomimetic and biohybrid systems.

The main lectures were held by

LM2016 Barbara Webb

  • Barbara Webb University of Edinburgh, UK. “Ant navigation: lessons for, and from, robots”
  • Thomas Speck University of Freiburg, DE. “Biomimetic Materials: Smart and Multifunctional Solutions for Technical Challenges of the 21st Century”
  • Antonio Bicchi, Italian Institute of Technology IIT, Italy. “On the Soft Synergy Model and Its Applications to Artificial Hands”.
  • Frank Hirth College London, UK. “Action selection is a neural mechanism whereby behavioural repertoires compete for control of a finite set of motor resources”.
  • Yoshihiko Nakamura University of Tokio, Japan. “Computer simulation of the human wholebody neuromuscular system is a grand challenge of supercomputing”.

LM2016 posters_demosSession themes included: Biomimetic Technologies, Neuromimetics, Animal inspired robotics.

A demo session highlighted models of biomimetic robots including; examples of crawling, walking and swimming robots; a robotic platform for cerebellar function and others.

The 5th edition of the Living Machines conference series is organized in collaboration with CSNetwork EU-FET, Heriot Watt University, University of Edinburgh, Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, Sheffield University, IOP Science Journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, Santander Bank, Wiley.

Living Machines international conference on biomimetic and biohybrid systems

Attending Living Machines 2016. Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, UK. @CSN_eu

Robots to engage in communicative behaviours with humans!

The EU project – What You Say Is What You Did – studies how to teach robots to build a narrative self and communicate with humans!

Personal robots in homes and their integration in everyday life will be a major breakthrough of the 21st century. Yet, to realize this vision, important obstacles need to be overcome: these robots will have to act in unpredictable environments including homes and learn new skills while interacting with humans. Intelligent artifacts and robots are expected to operate in complex physical and social environments. The deployment of service and companion robots, however, requires that humans and robots can understand each other and can communicate.iCub_object_MariaThe goal of the Eu project WYSIWYD  is to be able to contribute to a qualitative change in human-robot interaction and cooperation (HRI)  and scientists are working towards advancing a robot’s ability to engage in communicative behaviours with humans.

By allowing robots to both understand their own actions and those of humans, will unable the interpretation and communication of the robot “understanding” into human compatible intentional terms. This is expressed as a language-like communication channel called “WYSIWYD Robotese” (WR). The WYSIWYD project will advance this critical communication channel following a biologically and psychologically grounded developmental perspective allowing the robot to acquire, retain and express WR dependent on its individual interaction history or “narrative”.


An integrated architecture to improve communication in HRI

To achieve transparency and communication in HRI a number of elements must be put in place: a well defined experimental paradigm, an integrated architecture for perception, cognition, action and intrinsic motivation that, among other things, provides the backbone for the acquisition of an autonomous communication structure, the WR-DAC architecture

WYSIWYD aims to contribute to a qualitative change in human-robot interaction (HRI) and cooperation, unlocking new capabilities and application areas together with enhanced safety, robustness and monitoring.

Project reviewed with excellence !

The Eu project WYSIWYD, coordinated by ICREA Prof. Paul Verschure director of the SPECS lab at UPF, has reached its 2nd year with a very positive report by the Eu project reviewers and has passed its 2nd review with excellent!

The yearly review meeting took place on the 19th of March and was hosted by the INSERM group in Lyon.  for more information on the project and more recent video see

New survey on public attitudes towards robots: comfortable or confused?

Article by Michael Szollosy

SO, the British Science Association has released a survey on the British public’s attitudes toward robotics and AI. Their headlines:

BSA w headline

  • 60% of people think that the use of robots or programmes equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to fewer jobs within ten years
  • 36% of the public believe that the development of AI poses a threat to the long term survival of humanity.

Some other highlights: Continue reading

A brain for a foraging robot

sf_rabams_uva_web An animal survival depends on its ability to find resources in the surrounding environment, in other words in its foraging strategies.

According to Prof. Paul Verschure and his Distributed Adaptive Control theory of mind and brain DAC, when foraging and hoarding, animals behave according to 5 top-level objectives called: “how”, “why”, “what”, “where” and “when” or the so called H4W problem (Verschure, 2012). This form of complex behavior includes: to learn where and when to look for  resources, what to look for, where and when to return to the home base, how  to avoid obstacles and how to act in order to satisfy internal needs.

But how does the brain organization and underlying neural principles account for these complex behaviors? Continue reading

An ecology of robots built using principles of biomimetics

More then ever scientists are using a nature-inspired approach to build biomimimetic robots. Developed after through investigation of biological systems, these robots are a wonder of engineering and artificial intelligence research.


Robotic Lobster by Prof. Josef Ayers at Northeastern University. Photography Jan Witting

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Mind and Brain experts meet in Woods Hole to discuss large scale integration

IMG_2 “We are coming to an era where one of the most urgent challenges in neuroscience is the problem of large scale integration”.

Large-scale simulations of the brain in silico, sometimes using robotics, can be useful, but they are only meaningful if built upon a solid understanding of brain regions. “We need to know the specific interactions between brain regions and we need know the control signals involved. We need to know how the brain functions as a whole”, comments ICREA Prof, Paul Verschure from UPF Barcelona, with Prof. John Lisman from Brandeis UniversityContinue reading

The robot will see you now…

Article by Michael Szollosy

Where have all the workers gone?

Where have all the workers gone?

The idea that robots will replace human labour hasbeen around since, technically, before there was even such a thing as robots. It is an intriguing history: We can trace our fears of being displaced by mechanised labour back to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, as automated looms, powered by the magic of steam engines, meant less employment for skilled workers. Continue reading

On Anthropomorphisation



Article by Michael Szollosy

“The desire to anthropomorphise, the need to connect, is powerful, and that is why this thing is going to sell.”

So says Daniel Graystone, inventor and CEO of Graystone industries in the American network series Caprica. The prequel to the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica tells the story of how the genocidal Cylons came into existence. Graystone is trying to develop a robot for use by the military, but realises that his will be more successful if his robots look and act like human beings. First, it needs to be pointed out – evidently with some frequency – that bipedal robot soldiers are probably the most inefficient way that robots can be used in military combat, and not at all what a truly sophisticated artificial intelligence would use to take over the planet and enslave the human race.

But given that, Graystone makes a very important point: there is a very deeply-rooted impulse to anthropomorphise – to attribute human qualities to things that are not human – and this seems to be a big factor in the development of human-robot interactions.  Continue reading

This cuttlefish robot is actually better than cuttlefish

Sepios robot Credit: ETH Zurich

Sepios robot
Credit: ETH Zurich

A new marine robot, called Sepios, has recently joined the ever-growing robotic animal kingdom. Built by a group of students from Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, this biomimetic robot was inspired by yet another marine creature, namely a cuttlefish. The interesting thing is that Sepios can actually do better than the creature that inspired it.

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Scientists set robots against Ebola

Xenex's germ-zapping robot Credit: Xenex

Xenex’s germ-zapping robot
Credit: Xenex

With the official Ebola death toll approaching 5,000, scientists are increasingly concerned with exploiting all possible ways of fighting this deadly disease. While the biggest labs around the world are working on a vaccine that will hopefully exterminate Ebola once and for all, roboticists are developing more unconventional ways of preventing the spread of the disease.

Continue reading