Cognitive Robotics


Robots capable of addressing complex, real-world situations

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … space of imaginable possibility
  • Knowing is … current repertoire of possibility
  • Learner is … a robot (literally)
  • Learning is … expanding a repertoire
  • Teaching is … challenging




Cognitive Robotics is an area of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that is concerned with creating robots that are able to learn and reason in order to act effectively in situations involving complex goals and/or problem solving. Cognitive Robotics explicitly rejects strategies based on symbolic representations of the world, based on decades of failed efforts. Rather, taking Animal Cognition as a starting place and without direct programming of solutions, Cognitive Robotics situates ambulatory, sensing robots in the physical world and equips them with strategies to learn to act (e.g., imitating other agents, exploring through pseudo-random movement, interactive sensory-feedback and symbol-processing units) as they work toward meeting assigned goals.


As with Animal Cognition and Plant Cognition, appreciating what Cognitive Robotics is all about requires the rejection of many commonsense dualisms (e.g., thought/action, human/nonhuman, animal/machine). Hence, for the most part, criticisms tend to be anchored to a reluctance to jettison one or more of these notions – in spite of some rather stunning successes of Cognitive Robotics. Perhaps its major contribution is the frequent confirmation of a foundational principle of Embodiment Discourses – namely that, when it comes to effective action in the real world, there is no need posit or rely on internal representations.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Rodney Brooks

Status as a Theory of Learning

Cognitive Robotics is a domain of research, but it can also be construed as positing, investigating, and confirming a theory of learning. In the process, Cognitive Robotics has afforded insights into and human learning, especially around the role of the physical body acting within the physical world.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Cognitive Robotics is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Cognitive Robotics is a vibrant and robust domain of scientific inquiry.  

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Cognitive Robotics” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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