Unit 9: Robot Control – Coordination

This unit attempts to cover the concept of coordination for behavior based control systems. It examines how robots decide what behavior should be used to accomplish a given task when there is more than one action or behavior which might be employed.

Table of Contents

Reading- Chapter 17: Making Your Robot Behave

Making decisions is a complex process, and roboticists have thought long and hard about the problem. When a robot must make a decision regarding what action, behavior or combination of behaviors is most appropriate for a problem it is known as behavior coordination.

Food For Thought 17-1

Does it ever happen to you that you can’t decide between two options? What do you do? Theories from cognitive science and neurosciences say that human emotions are useful for helping us decide between similiar options; there exist people with certain neural deficits who are both unemotional and unable to choose between things that appear similarly good (or bad). Does this mean robots need emotions? Some researchers in AI have argued that both robots and AI software in general could benefit from such emotions. What do you think?

It is interesting that so many of the decisions we make in our day to day life are almost instinctive and and intuitive, yet when trying to decide what movie to watch we can often become paralyzed. Choice paralysis can occur in so many different ways and for so many things that we can do.

Choice Paralysis when trying to find a netflix movie.

While I find I can become stuck trying to pick a movie sometimes, I also find that if I am “hyped” up or excited for a movie the decision becomes easy, the movie I am excited for is obviously the best choice and I will eagerly watch it. My emotional state affects my decision making process and when I have a strong emotion regarding something, it makes the decision faster and easier. Emotions seem to function as a subconscious weighting that affects my perceived value or the desirability of a given action or choice. To that end, I think emotion can be a useful tool, but it is by no means infallible. Sometimes I need to step back from my excitement and spend some time critically evaluating a decision, as the emotional choice is often not the optimal choice. If you are at all familiar with Star Trek, you may know that the Vulcans pride themselves on being logical critical thinkers that are not driven by their emotions while humans are known to be almost chaotic and reckless as their emotions can drive them to tragedy.

Now all of this leads to the question should robots and AI have emotion? This is a question that we are still grappling with, and there are many examples of fiction and science fiction where this question is asked. Off the top of my head I think the Robin Williams movie Bicentennial man was one of the first examples I can remember encountering where the idea that Robots can feel and have emotions was first explored. The importance of robot emotion is explored repeatedly and in many different stories. Star Trek explores the concept with Data, and to a lesser extent Spock. In the terminator series, the development of emotional attachment to John Connor helps to develop the terminator into a more capable and meaningful being. Lastly I want to talk about a book I read called “Run Program” by Scott Meyer, which tells the tale of an AI who has been developed with an emotional weighting to its behavioural and decision making process. The emotional element makes it possible to encourage or discourage behaviors as the AI develops, and the entire process begins to reflect that of a child growing and learning about the world(while essentially having digital superpowers). In the story the AI does escape its lab and chaos ensues, but ultimately the AI wants to be safe and still values its connection to humanity.

As we consider intelligence, and the ability to make meaningful decisions in limited time spans I do believe that emotions are an important tool. I believe that for a robot or AI to meaningfully pass the Turing test there will at least need to be the appearance of emotion. So my opinion as formed by popular media would be that emotions are a valuable tool that should seriously be considered for robotics and AI research.

*However, we may need to be careful when imbuing emotions to robots, or we may accidentally create the depressed Robots that were in Douglas Adams “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Marvin the Manically Depressed Robot.


This was an interesting chapter that wound up with me creating a long list of movies and books that I will need to revisit soon. It is interesting to see how influential the presence of emotions may be to the decision making process, and it is true that when there are no emotions, it can become very challenging to make a decision when many options are equally valid.

I’m going to go watch the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy now, but I’ll be back with the next unit soon.

Shawn Ritter

December 6th, 2021

Featured Image: https://www.goodfon.com/download/marvin-the-hitchhiker-s-guide/1920×1200/

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