Modelling a Hormone-Inspired Controller for Individual- and Multi-Modular Robotic Systems

Thomas Schmickl, Heiko Hamann, Karl Crailsheim
Mathematical and Computer Modelling of Dynamical Systems 17(3) (2011), 221-242


For all living organisms, the ability to regulate internal homeostasis is a crucial feature. This ability to control variables around a set point is found frequently in the physiological networks of single cells and of higher organisms. Also, nutrient allocation and task selection in social insect colonies can be interpreted as homeostatic processes of a super-organism. And finally, behaviour can also represent such a control scheme. We show how a simple model of hormone regulation, inspired by simple biological organisms, can be used as a novel method to control the behaviour of autonomous robots. We demonstrate the formulation of such an artificial homeostatic hormone system (AHHS) by a set of linked difference equations and explain how the homeostatic control of behaviour is achieved by homeostatic control of the internal 'hormonal' state of the robot. The first task that we used to check the quality of our AHHS controllers was a very simple one, which is often a core functionality in controller programmes that are used in autonomous robots: obstacle avoidance. We demonstrate two implementations of such an AHHS controller that performs this task in differing levels of quality. Both controllers use the concept of homeostatic control of internal variables (hormones) and they extend this concept to also include the outside world of the robots into the controlling feedback loops: As they try to regulate internal hormone levels, they are forced to keep a homeostatic control of sensor values in a way that the desired goal 'obstacle avoidance' is achieved. Thus, the created behaviour is also a manifestation of the acts of homeostatic control. The controllers were evaluated using a stock-and-flow model that allowed sensitivity analysis and stability tests. Afterwards, we have also tested both controllers in a multi-agent simulation tool, which allowed us to predict the robots' behaviours in various habitats and group sizes. Finally, we demonstrate how this novel AHHS controller is suitable to control a multi-cellular robotic organism in an evolutionary robotics approach, which is used for self-programming in a gait-learning task. These examples shown in this article represent the first step in our research towards autonomous aggregation and coordination of robots to higher-level modular robotic organisms that consist of several joined autonomous robotic units. Finally, we plan to achieve such aggregation patterns and to control complex-shaped robotic organisms using AHHS controllers, as they are described here.