There is a growing body of robot-based research that makes a serious claim to be a new methodology for biology. Robots can be used as models of specific animal systems to test hypotheses regarding the control of behaviour. At levels from learning algorithms to specific dendritic circuits, implementing a proposed controller in a robotic device tests it against real environments in a way that is difficult to simulate. This often provides insight into the true nature of the problem. It also enforces complete specifications and combines bodies of data. Current work can sometimes be criticized for drawing unjustified conclusions given the limited evaluation and inevitable inaccuracies of robot models. Nevertheless, this approach has led to novel hypotheses for animal behaviour and seems likely to provide fruitful results in the future. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.