Robot picture The Skinnerbots Project Robot picture

Project Goals

We are developing computational theories of operant conditioning. While classical (Pavlovian) conditioning has a well-developed theory, implemented in the Rescorla-Wagner model and its descendants (work by Sutton & Barto, Grossberg, Klopf, Gallistel, and others), there is at present no comprehensive theory of operant conditioning. Our work has four components:
  1. Develop computationally explicit models of operant conditioning that reproduce classical animal learning experiments with rats, dogs, pigeons, etc.
  2. Demonstrate the workability of these models by implementing them on mobile robots, which then become trainable robots (Skinnerbots). We originally used Amelia, a B21 robot manufactured by Real World Interface, as our implementation platform. We are moving to the Sony AIBO.
  3. Map our computational theories onto neuroanatomical structures known to be involved in animal learning, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, and striatum.
  4. Explore issues in human-robot interaction that arise when non-scientists try to train robots as if they were animals.

Publications and News Reports

Team Members

Greg Armstrong rewards the robot by pressing a button on the Logitech radio trackball in his right hand.

Animal Training/Animal Behavior/Robotics Links


A project of the Computer Science Department, Robotics Institute, and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9978403. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Amelia robot provided courtesy of Reid Simmons and the Xavier group.