May.24, 2013

A research team led by Cornell University's Creative Machines Lab has created something remarkable: a computer algorithm that can be used to witness virtual creatures evolving their squishy, muscle-like features in order to teach themselves to walk.

Researchers have developed a program within which simulated robots can evolve from selective pressures, just like animals in nature, "build" themselves out of cubes of virtual muscles and bones.

Researchers programmed this virtual environment with a simple rule: robots that moved faster would be able to reproduce more. The team incorporated concepts from developmental biology and how nature builds complex animals – from jellyfish to jaguars. The result is an array of bizarre, simulated robots that evolve a diverse series of gaits and gallops.

The video below shows evolution in action: A creature evolves into a galloping, soft robot over 1,000 generations. While 1,000 generations is relatively short by natural evolution standards, it is enough to demonstrate the power of evolution to create counterintuitive designs, according to the researchers.

Lead author Nick Cheney, a Cornell graduate student, will present their paper "Unshackling Evolution: Evolving Soft Robots With Multiple Materials and a Powerful Generative Encoding" at the July conference in Amsterdam. Robert MacCurdy, also a graduate student at Cornell, contributed to the work, as well as Jeff Clune, assistant professor and Hod Lipson, associate professor at Cornell. More than a decade ago, Lipson led a project called Golem that similarly evolved robots, and he later built them with a 3D printer.

Although these robots are confined to insides of a program, that won't be the case forever. Consider their construction, a series of simple cubes, Cheney envisions a future where his robots could be 3D printed using pressure-sensitive materials, or even muscle, tissue and bone like real animals. Recent developments in 3D printing have enabled bone, cartilage and even muscle being created in the lab.

You can download the paper here. Researchers describe how they challenged human engineers to design robots made of these soft and hard materials. The human efforts paled in comparison to the designs resulting from evolution.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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