Office of Naval Research – MURI

Neurophysiological data on grid cells in the entorhinal cortex provide an exciting new perspective on biological mechanisms for spatial representation and navigation that could enhance robotic navigation and provide a common ground of situational awareness between human and robotic teammates. For example, ensuring that a robot and human partner are using the same spatial representations to navigate should enhance communication for maintaining situational awareness and moving through the environment.  Grid cells are single neurons recorded in the medial entorhinal cortex of rats that fire in an array of locations within the environment falling on the vertices of tightly packed equilateral triangles [4, 14, 35, 37, 48, 67].  Grid cells show stable firing over extended periods of time (>10 min) even in darkness, indicating robust path integration despite the noise inherent in neural systems.  They provide an exciting perspective on potential biological mechanisms for simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).  The projects proposed here will use computational modeling, neurophysiological experiments in rats and humans, and robotics research to study the biological mechanisms of spatial information and goal-directed navigation, addressing the following issues: 1. Non-linear dynamic models of grid cells can indicate biological mechanisms of spatial representation that can be shared with robotics research.  2. Neurophysiological data on grid cells indicates mechanisms for linking sensory input to spatial representations that could enhance SLAM in robots and their communication with humans.  3. Autonomous systems can use biologically inspired spatial representations for SLAM, goal directed behavior and biologically inspired spatial representations for SLAM, goal directed behavior and communication of spatial information.  4. Analysis of neural mechanisms of human spatial representation will enhance communication of spatial information with autonomous systems.