Braitenberg Vehicles explore Reality

Braitenberg’s Vehicles


In his 1984 book 'Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology' Valentino Braitenberg presents an armada of simple vehicles that consist only of sensors, motors, and wiring. Despite their simplicity these vehicles show astonishingly diverse behaviors. Braitenberg thus shows how simple neural architecture (the wiring) can produce complex behaviors in real world environments. The image on the right show how different wiring patterns of inhibitory connections result in opposite behaviors.


Such simple robots are research- and demonstration-tools in the field of Computational Neuroscience, as they illustrate principles of how animal and human brains might work. They remind researchers that often not the system itself, but its interaction with its environment has crucial importance for understanding the system’s operating principles.

Braitenberg Vehicles with 2 sensors and 2 motors each.
 “-“ indicates: The stronger the sensory input, the slower the motor. (Source: "Vehicles", 1984, MIT press)

Our vehicle


The best way to understanding usually is by exploration; so physically implemented the imaginary vehicles to facilitate exploration.

As in Braitenberg’s concepts our vehicle consists of two sensors and two actuators that can propel the vehicle. The sensors in the front of the vehicle respond to incoming light. The motors in the vehicles back each have an excitatory and an inhibitory input. Signals originating from the sensors get connected via cables to any of the motor inputs.

This simple setup facilitates duplicating Braitenberg’s experiments and allows further exploration of other connections from sensory inputs to motor outputs.

One of our “Braitenberg” vehicles



During a week of “open house” events (link in German) at the Institute of Neuroinformatics, University/ETH Zurich, we presented the vehicles to high-school students aged 12 to 16. For each group of 3 students we provided a vehicle, a torch, and a results-sheet. After a 10 minute introduction we encouraged students to explore different behaviors resulting from various wiring combinations. At the end of their experimental session, several groups presented their results and discussed the explored behaviors. This lesson was highly appreciated by students and teachers because of its experimental and educational content.

High-school student experimenting

Further Information


Project group
Fabian Roth

Jakob Heinzle

Armin Duff

Jörg Conradt

Institute of Neuroinformatics
uni | eth | Zürich

Valentino Braitenberg and his book
Braitenberg’s Webpage
"Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology", 1986, Bradford Book/MIT press, ISBN 0262521121

Demo Movie (Excerpts on the right)
mpeg4 (ca. 6.5 MB) wmv (ca. 6.5 MB)