The Role of the Lego Mindstorms EV3 Robot in Artificial Intelligence Research

Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. Image: Maryann Goldman
Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. Image: Maryann Goldman

As a First Lego League (FLL) coach, Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot enthusiast, and overall Lego brick fan, I read a lot of Lego-related books and articles. This week, I stumbled upon a fascinating article on the I Programmer website talking about the EV3 and artificial intelligence (AI). In the article, writer Lucy Black describes how scientists have connected the brain of a worm to the sensors and motors of an EV3 robot using a computer program. The scientists started by mapping the 302 neurons of the nematode worm. Then using that information, Timothy Busbice of the OpenWorm project implemented an object oriented neuron program.

The research didn’t stop there. Scientists connected the neuron program to the EV3 so that the EV3 sonar sensor became the worm’s nose, and the EV3 motors controlling the wheels became the worm’s muscles. The EV3 touch sensor was also used to detect obstacles going forward and backward. The scientists were then able to observe normal worm behaviors such as the robot moving toward food or backing up when coming into contact with an an obstacle like a wall. I thought the whole process sounded complicated and incredible at the same time!

What I liked most about this article and the research is that it makes science, math, and programming real. That is, I can go back to the kids on my FLL team and show them a real-life use of the EV3 which will help me drive home how important the effort they are making to learn how to program the EV3 is. I now have a real world example where science meets math and programming. I think interesting research like this has the potential to capture the imagination and trigger the innovation of our youth. I know some people will read the article and want to debate the likelihood of true artificial intelligence or even the merits of doing artificial intelligence research, and that’s fine too.

For more detail, please read the full article. Besides a more detailed explanation, the article contains a video of the EV3 in action.