26th International Symposium on Artificial Life and Robotics
AROB 26th 2021
6th International Symposium on BioComplexity
January 21-23, 2021

Plenary Speakers

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Soft Robotics – the route to true robotic organisms?

Prof. Jonathan Rossiter
University of Bristol, UK


Soft robotics has come to the fore in the last decade as a new way of conceptualising, designing and fabricating robots. Soft materials empower robots with locomotion, manipulation, and adaptability capabilities beyond those possible with conventional rigid robots. Soft robots can also be made from biological, biocompatible and biodegradable materials. This offers the tantalising possibility of bridging the gap between robots and organisms. We will discuss the properties of soft materials and soft systems that make them so attractive for future robots. In doing so we consider how future robots can behave like, and have abilities akin to, biological organisms. These include huge numbers, finite lifetime, homeostasis and minimal environmental impact. This paves the way for future robots, not as machines, but as robotic organisms.


Jonathan Rossiter is Professor of Robotics at Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the University of Bristol. His is founder and head of the SoftLab research group, and leader in the field of Soft Robotics - the development of soft materials, mechanisms and machines that will have a huge impact on almost all aspect of our lives, from healthcare and virtual reality to environmental protection and space systems. In 2018 he was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, one of the most prestigious UK research awards. He is concurrently EPSRC Research Fellow and was previously Royal Society Research Fellow. He has published over 200 peer reviewed publications, patents and commercial licenses. He has generated research firsts which lay the foundations for ubiquitous soft robotics, including biodegradable and edible robotics, stretchable and pocketable electroskin robots, models of soft robot and microorganism deformation, soft matter computers, and scalable artificial muscles with largest ever contractile strain. His TED talk on biodegradable and pollution eating robots has been viewed 1.4M times, and his research has been broadcast through major media (incl. BBC, Sky, CBS, Reuters) reaching audiences of over 1 billion.
Website: www.bristol.ac.uk/softlab
Email: Jonathan.Rossiter@bristol.ac.uk

Friday, January 22, 2021

AI Empowered Social Robots for Human-Centric Society

Dr. Li-Chen Fu
Center for AI and Advanced Robotics
Dept. of Computer Science & Information Engineering
National Taiwan University


Given the rapid advance in various robot technology development, increasing research attentions have been paid to the field of social robotics lately, where a social robot is an autonomous robot that interacts and communicates with humans or other autonomous physical agents by following social behaviors and rules attached to its role. On the other hand, human-centric society tries to provide an environment which is enriched by intelligent machines and software agents designed to unobtrusively or proactively serve human needs while staying mostly in backend. Naturally, social robots have been considered as advanced means to establish such kind of society, which may eventually lead to the state where human lives would become easier, healthier, and more productive. However, so far there remains a great challenge for the currently developed social robots to be able to get along with humans long and well enough in order for them to address real needs in human’s life due to failure to hold contextual intelligence as well as essential autonomy. In other words, robots are not able to adapt what they are capable of to the real world scenarios and situations. Fortunately, enlightened by the recent breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI), a variety of powerful perceptional and reasoning abilities have been developed such that, after leveraging versatile big data from open sources, the social robots are enabled to comprehend the underlying contexts and to make autonomous decision much better than before. Under such circumstance, these AI empowered social robots can interact with humans more naturally and versatilely, and thus may provide services more centered on humans, which attains the goal of the society we strive to establish.


Li-Chen Fu received the B.S. degree from National Taiwan University in 1981, and the Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987. Since 1987, he joined National Taiwan University, and was awarded Lifetime Distinguished Professorship and Irving T. Ho Chair-professorship in 2007. He has also served as the university Secretary General from 2005 to 2008. Currently, he serves as Director of NTU Center for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Advanced Robotics as well as Co-director of MOST (Ministry of Science and Technology)/NTU Joint Research Center for AI Technology and All Vista Healthcare. His areas of research interest include Social Robotics, Smart Home/Healthcare, VR/AR, Visual Detection/Tracking, and Control Theory & Applications.

Dr. Fu has been extremely active and highly regarded in his technical field. He has served as the Program Chairs of 「2003 IEEE International Conference on Robotics & Automation」 and 「2004 IEEE Conference on Control Applications (CCA)」. For recognition, he was later invited to serve as Program Director of Control Program under Engineering Department, Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST), Taiwan, during 2010~2012. In terms of the editorial work, he has served as Associate Editor of the prestigious control journal, called Automatica from 1996 to 1999. Starting from 1999, he started a new international control journal, called Asian Journal of Control, and became an Editor-in-Chief of the journal till now. Due to his profound academic reputation, he was appointed as Vice-President for Publication of Asian Control Association (ACA) since 2006, and then was elected as President of ACA during 2012–2013. Due to his active role in international control community, he was elected as BoG member of IEEE Control Systems Society (CSS) from 2014 to 2016, and later served as the Vice President for Membership of IEEE CSS from 2017~2018.

Dr. Fu has received numerous recognitions for his outstanding performance in research and education during his technical career over three decades. Domestically, he has received multiple Distinguished Research Awards from MOST before 2000, Outstanding Youth Medal in 1991, Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award in 1999, Outstanding Control Engineering Award from Chinese Automatic Control Society (CACS) in 2000, Industry-Academia Collaboration Award from Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2004, TECO Technology Award in 2005, Outstanding Research Award from Pan Wen Yuan Foundation in 2012, Y.Z. Hsu Science Award from Y.Z. Hsu Science and Technology Memorial Foundation in 2017, Academic Award as well as National Chair Professorship both from MOE respectively in 2015 and 2019, and Life Achievement Award from CACS in 2019. Internationally, he was awarded IEEE Fellow in 2004, has been elected as a Distinguished Lecturer for IEEE Control Systems Society from 2013~2015, was awarded 「Wook Hyun Kwon Education Prize」from Asian Control Association in 2015, was elevated to IFAC Fellow in 2016, and was awarded 「Outstanding Service Award」from Asian Control Association in 2017.

Saturday, January 23, 2020

Lenia and the Rise of Agency in Artificial Life

Mr. Bert Wang-Chak CHAN
Independent researcher, Hong Kong


In robotics and artificial intelligence, agency is a basic given concept. Agents are being designed, trained, rolled out and tested in real or virtual environments to perform certain tasks. In artificial life and biology, there are more fundamental discussions of “what is agency” and “what can be considered an agent”, usually in the context of biological hierarchy and information theory. To add to the discussion, we present a possible case of agents arising from scratch inside a grid-based system.

By generalizing Conway’s Game of Life, a system of continuous cellular automata called Lenia was discovered. It is capable of producing a huge variety of lifelike moving patterns inside computer simulation. As the system was further generalized, resilient cell-like structures started to emerge. These structures could maintain self boundaries; they attract, repel, and interact with each other; they self-reproduce and self-destruct. They seem to be able to sense the virtual world around them and act accordingly to fulfill the goal of survival. This means we may be witnessing the emergence of “agency” out of a distributed model with simple local rules, without explicitly designing for it.

If these abstract patterns can be considered agents, one possible research direction is to train or evolve them using techniques from robotics and reinforcement learning, by giving a suitable set of goals or reward functions (e.g. survival, locomotion, reproduction).


Bert Chan is a big data and software team lead in Hong Kong, and an independent researcher on artificial life. He received a B.Sc. degree in computer science from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1999), and a M.Sc. degree in cognitive science from Lund University, Sweden (2008). His personal project since 2015, a continuous cellular automata system called Lenia, has attracted some attention on the internet and academia. The project sparks international collaborations with universities and research labs (e.g. Google Brain, Inria, the University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, the Czech Technical University in Prague, Tufts University), using Lenia as a new platform for frontier research in deep learning, information theory, parallel computing, and complex systems. His research paper “Lenia - Biology of Artificial Life” was awarded the Outstanding Paper of 2019 by the International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL).
website: https://chakazul.github.io/
email: albert.chak@gmail.com

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