We didn’t realize that dog training research techniques were so high-tech. Operant conditioning, as opposed to Pavlovian, gives a positive reward, in this case dog treats, to reinforce a desired behavior. Traditionally operant conditioning involved dispensing the treat manually and some devices do exist using wireless remote controls, but they are still manually operated and can give inconsistent results (too many or too few treats). There weren’t any existing methods available to automate this process, so this team decided to rectify the situation.
They took a commercial treat dispenser and retro-fitted it with an interface board that taps into the dispenser’s IR sensors to detect that the hopper is moving and treats were actually dispensed. The interface board connects to a Raspberry Pi which serves as a full-featured platform to run the tests. In this demonstration it connects to an HDMI monitor, detecting touches from the dog’s nose to correlate with events onscreen. Future researchers won’t have to reinvent the wheel, just redesign the test itself, because [Walker] and [Jeffrey] have released all the firmware and hardware as open-source on the lab’s GitHub repository.
In the short video clip below, watch the dog as he gets a treat when he taps the white dot with his snout. If you look closely, at one point the dog briefly moves the mouse pointer as well. We predict by next year the C-CHIL researchers will have this fellow drawing pictures and playing checkers.
Despite epithets like “bird-brain,” our feathered friends are actually pretty smart. Being able to maneuver in three dimensions at high speed must have something to do with it, and the cognitive abilities of birds are well-documented and still being researched. So it naturally makes sense to harness avian brainpower to keep one’s yard clean, right?
For the record, the magpies that [Hans] is training are very intelligent and strikingly beautiful birds who delight in swooping down to harass people, and who will gladly steal food from other birds and then poop on it and fly away. So they’re jerks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful jerks. The goal with his BirdBox system is to use classic operant conditioning, where a desired voluntary behavior is reinforced by a reward. In this case, the reward is a treat dispensed by a 3D-printed vibratory dispenser when the bird collects a bottlecap from the yard and deposits it in the proper slot. The video below shows the birds doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
[Hans] tells us that the trick is getting the birds to accept the BirdBox and to have them integrate it into their “patrol schematic” of their territory. Once that’s done, it’s a simpler matter to have them associate the bottlecaps with the reward. The other challenge is making everything bulletproof, or in this case magpie-proof. Did we mention that magpies are jerks?
The possibilities for trading peanuts for yardwork are endless; [Hans] mentions plans he has for fallen fruit clean-up, and mentions a persistent garden slug problem that the birds might be employed to remediate. If you want to try this, it might be a good idea to brush up on the work of [B.F. Skinner] and his pigeons of war.
Well this is unusual. Behold the Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control, and as a project it is all about altering the response to the instrument, rather than being about hacking the musical instrument itself. It’s [Kurt White]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and it’s as intriguing as it is different.
[Kurt] has created a portable, internet-connected, automated food dispenser with a live streaming video feed and the ability to play recorded sounds. That device (named Nicodemus) is used as a Skinner Box to train rats — anywhere rats may be found — using operant conditioning to make them expect food when they hear a few bars of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man played on a small recorder (which is a type of flute.)
In short, the flute would allow one to summon hordes of rats as if by magic, because they have been trained by Nicodemus to associate Iron Man with food.
Many of the system’s elements are informed by the results of research into sound preference in rats, as well as their ability to discriminate between different melodies, so long as the right frequencies are present. The summoning part is all about science, but what about how to protect oneself from the hordes of hungry rodents who arrive with sharp teeth and high expectations of being fed? According to [Kurt], that’s where the magic comes in. He seems very certain that a ritual to convert a wooden recorder into a magic flute is all the protection one would need.
Embedded below is something I’m comfortable calling the strangest use case video we’ve ever seen. Well, we think it’s a dramatized use case. Perhaps it’s more correctly a mood piece or motivational assist. Outsider Art? You decide.
The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those who struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.
That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.
Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.
There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.
This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People. In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.