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Watch This 1940s Robotic Tortoise Navigate A Room By Itself

A primitive robot has been brought back to life to inspire a new generation.The “Tortoise” was built by William Grey Walter in 1948 and used sensors for light and movement to form a simple nervous system.In the 1940s Dr. William Grey Walter built some of the first artificial animals. More than half a century later, these first robots are providing the inspiration for a new race of mechanical creatures.

image credit: Science Channel 

Walter called his machines tortoises, after the tortoise in Alice in Wonderland. The mock turtle explains to Alice that “we went to school in the sea. The Master was an old turtle, we used to call him Tortoise.” Alice interrupts to ask why he called him tortoise if he wasn’t one. “We called him tortoise because he taught us,” replies the mock turtle angrily.

image credit: Science Channel 

In one experiment he placed a light on the “nose” of a tortoise and watched as the robot observed itself in a mirror. “It began flickering,” he wrote. “Twittering, and jigging like a clumsy Narcissus.” Walter argued that if it were seen in an animal it “might be accepted as evidence of some degree of self-awareness.”


One of the tortoises was modified, (given the pretend scientific name Machina docilis) and had added to its simple single celled “brain” one, then two conditional reflex circuits in which they could be taught simple behaviors similar to Ivan Pavlov’s dogs.

This tortoise was called CORA. One of these included being hit meant food whilst whistling means food, and when conditioned such a whistle by itself means being hit.