Subsumption architecture

Subsumption architecture

Subsumption architecture is a reactive robot architecture heavily associated with behavior-based robotics. The term was introduced by Rodney Brooks and colleagues in 1986cite journal
author = Brooks, R.
year = 1986
title = A robust layered control system for a mobile robot
journal = Robotics and Automation, IEEE Journal of [legacy, pre-1988]
volume = 2
issue = 1
pages = 14–23
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-14
] cite conference
author = Brooks, R.
year = 1986
title = Asynchronous distributed control system for a mobile robot.
conference =
booktitle = SPIE Conference on Mobile Robots
pages = 77-84
publisher =
url =
conferenceurl =
] [Brooks, R. A., "A Robust Programming Scheme for a Mobile Robot", Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Languages for Sensor-Based Control in Robotics, Castelvecchio Pascoli, Italy, September 1986.] . Subsumption has been widely influential in autonomous robotics and elsewhere in real-time AI.


A subsumption architecture is a way of decomposing complicated intelligent behaviour into many "simple" behaviour modules, which are in turn organized into layers. Each layer implements a particular goal of the agent, and higher layers are increasingly more abstract. Each layer's goal subsumes that of the underlying layers, e.g. the decision to move forward by the eat-food layer takes into account the decision of the lowest obstacle-avoidance layer. As opposed to more traditional A.I. approaches subsumption architecture uses a bottom-up design.

For example, a robot's lowest layer could be "avoid an object", on top of it would be the layer "wander around", which in turn lies under "explore the world". Each of these horizontal layers access all of the sensor data and generate actions for the actuators — the main caveat is that separate tasks can suppress (or overrule) inputs or inhibit outputs. This way, the lowest layers can work like fast-adapting mechanisms (e.g. reflexes), while the higher layers work to achieve the overall goal. Feedback is given mainly through the environment.

Attributes of the architecture

The main advantages of the methodology are:
*the modularity,
*the emphasis on iterative development & testing of real-time systems in their target domain, and
*the emphasis on connecting limited, task-specific perception directly to the expressed actions that require it. These innovations allowed the development of the first robots capable of animal-like speeds. cite journal
author = Brooks, R.A.
year = 1990
title = Elephants Don't Play Chess
journal = Designing Autonomous Agents: Theory and Practice from Biology to Engineering and Back
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-06

Main disadvantages of this model are:
*the inability to have many layers, since the goals begin interfering with each other,
*the difficulty of designing action selection through highly distributed system of inhibition and suppression, and
*the consequent rather low flexibility at runtime.


Key papers include:
* R. A. Brooks (1987). [ "Planning is just a way of avoiding figuring out what to do next"] , Technical report, MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
* R. Brooks and A. Flynn (1989), "Fast, cheap, and out of control: A robot invasion of the solar system," J. Brit. Interplanetary Soc., vol. 42, no. 10, pp. 478-485, 1989. (The paper later gave rise to the title of the film "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," and the paper's concepts arguably have been seen in practice in the 1997 Mars Pathfinder and then 2004 Mars Exploration Rover Mission.)
* R. A Brooks (1991). [ "Intelligence Without Representation"] , Artificial Intelligence 47 (1991) 139-159. (Paper introduces concepts of Merkwelt and the Subsumption architecture.)

See also

* robotic paradigms
* agent architecture
* behavior based AI
* behavior-based robotics
* cognitive architecture
* emergent behavior
* scruffies
* situated
* hierarchical control system

External links

* [ Subsumption Behaviors used for a Variety of Real World Tasks]
* [ SB-MASE] is a subsumption-based multi-agent simulator.
* [ Subsumption for the SR04 and jBot Robots] , DPRG website
* [ Develop LeJOS programs step by step] , Juan Antonio Breña Moral website

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