Using strategic movement to calibrate a neural compass : a spiking network for tracking head direction in rats and robots

Stratton, Peter, Milford, Michael, Wyeth, Gordon, & Wiles, Janet (2011) Using strategic movement to calibrate a neural compass : a spiking network for tracking head direction in rats and robots. PLoS One, 6(10), pp. 1-15.

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The head direction (HD) system in mammals contains neurons that fire to represent the direction the animal is facing in its environment. The ability of these cells to reliably track head direction even after the removal of external sensory cues implies that the HD system is calibrated to function effectively using just internal (proprioceptive and vestibular) inputs. Rat pups and other infant mammals display stereotypical warm-up movements prior to locomotion in novel environments, and similar warm-up movements are seen in adult mammals with certain brain lesion-induced motor impairments. In this study we propose that synaptic learning mechanisms, in conjunction with appropriate movement strategies based on warm-up movements, can calibrate the HD system so that it functions effectively even in darkness. To examine the link between physical embodiment and neural control, and to determine that the system is robust to real-world phenomena, we implemented the synaptic mechanisms in a spiking neural network and tested it on a mobile robot platform. Results show that the combination of the synaptic learning mechanisms and warm-up movements are able to reliably calibrate the HD system so that it accurately tracks real-world head direction, and that calibration breaks down in systematic ways if certain movements are omitted. This work confirms that targeted, embodied behaviour can be used to calibrate neural systems, demonstrates that ‘grounding’ of modeled biological processes in the real world can reveal underlying functional principles (supporting the importance of robotics to biology), and proposes a functional role for stereotypical behaviours seen in infant mammals and those animals with certain motor deficits. We conjecture that these calibration principles may extend to the calibration of other neural systems involved in motion tracking and the representation of space, such as grid cells in entorhinal cortex.

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ID Code: 48032
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: head direction (HD) system in mammals, synaptic learning mechanisms, calibrate neural systems, modelled biological processes, importance of robotics to biology
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025687
ISSN: 1932-6203
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES (080000) > ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND IMAGE PROCESSING (080100)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Engineering Systems
Copyright Owner: © 2011 Stratton, Peter et al
Copyright Statement: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Deposited On: 12 Jan 2012 23:10
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2014 12:21

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