Cognitive inspired mapping by an autonomous mobile robot

Wong, Chee Kit
Yeap, Wai-Kiang (Albert)
Jefferies, Margaret
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

When animals explore a new environment, they do not acquire a precise map of the places visited. In fact, research has shown that learning is a recurring process. Over time, new information helps the animal to update their perception of the locations it has visited. Yet, they are still able to use the fuzzy and often incomplete representation to find their way home. This process has been termed the cognitive mapping process. The work presented in this thesis uses a mobile robot equipped with sonar sensors to investigate the nature of such a process. Specifically, what is the information that is fundamental and prevalent in spatial navigation? Initially, the robot is instructed to compute a “cognitive map” of its environment. Since a robot is not a cognitive agent, it cannot, by definition, compute a cognitive map. Hence the robot is used as a test bed for understanding the cognitive mapping process. Yeap’s (1988) theory of cognitive mapping forms the foundation for computing the robot’s representation of the places it has visited. He argued that a network of local spaces is computed early in the cognitive mapping process. Yeap coined these local spaces as Absolute Space Representations (ASRs). However, ASR is not just a process of partitioning the environment into smaller local regions. The ASRs describe the bounded space that one is in, how one could leave that space (exits) and how the exits serves to link the ASRs to form a network that serves as the cognitive map (see Jefferies (1999)). Like the animal’s cognitive map, ASRs are not precise geometrical maps of the environment but rather, provide a rough shape or feel of the space the robot is currently in. Once the robot computes its “cognitive map”, it is then, like foraging and hoarding animals, instructed to find its way home. To do so, the robot uses two crucial pieces of information: distance between exits of ASRs and relative orientation of adjacent ASRs. A simple animal-like strategy was implemented for the robot to locate home. Results from the experiments demonstrated the robot’s ability to determine its location within the visited environment along its journey. This task was performed without the use of an accurate map. From these results and reviews of various findings related to cognitive mapping for various animals, we deduce that: Different animals have different sensing capabilities. They live in different environments and therefore face unique challenges. Consequently, they evolve to have different navigational strategies. However, we believe two crucial pieces of information are inherent in all animals and form the fundamentals of navigation: distance and orientation. Higher level animals may encode and may even prefer richer information to enhance the animal’s cognitive map. Nonetheless, distance and orientation will always be computed as a core process of cognitive mapping. We believe this insight will help future research to better understand the complex nature of cognitive mapping.

Cognitive mapping , Spatial reasoning , Inaccurate mapping , Mobile robot
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