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Automatic design and manufacture of robotic lifeforms


Biological life is in control of its own means of reproduction, which generally involves complex, autocatalysing chemical reactions. But this autonomy of design and manufacture has not yet been realized artificially1. Robots are still laboriously designed and constructed by teams of human engineers, usually at considerable expense. Few robots are available because these costs must be absorbed through mass production, which is justified only for toys, weapons and industrial systems such as automatic teller machines. Here we report the results of a combined computational and experimental approach in which simple electromechanical systems are evolved through simulations from basic building blocks (bars, actuators and artificial neurons); the ‘fittest’ machines (defined by their locomotive ability) are then fabricated robotically using rapid manufacturing technology. We thus achieve autonomy of design and construction using evolution in a ‘limited universe’ physical simulation2,3 coupled to automatic fabrication.

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Figure 1: Schematic illustration of an evolvable robot.
Figure 2: Phylogenetic trees of several different evolutionary runs.
Figure 3: A generation of robots.
Figure 4: Physical embodiment process.
Figure 5: Three resulting robots.


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We thank the DEMO Lab members for useful discussions: P. Funes, R. Watson, O. Melnik, S. Ficici, G. Hornby, E. Sklar & S. Levy. We also thank K. Quigley and G. Widberg for technical assistance. This research was partially supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and by the Fischbach Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Jordan B. Pollack.

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Lipson, H., Pollack, J. Automatic design and manufacture of robotic lifeforms. Nature 406, 974–978 (2000).

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