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The field of evolutionary robotics has demonstrated the ability to automatically design the morphology and controller of simple physical robots through synthetic evolutionary processes. However, it is not clear if variation-based search processes can attain the complexity of design necessary for practical engineering of robots. Here, we demonstrate an automatic design system that produces complex robots by exploiting the principles of regularity, modularity, hierarchy, and reuse. These techniques are already established principles of scaling in engineering design and have been observed in nature, but have not been broadly used in artificial evolution. We gain these advantages through the use of a generative representation, which combines a programmatic representation with an algorithmic process that compiles the representation into a detailed construction plan. This approach is shown to have two benefits: it can reuse components in regular and hierarchical ways, providing a systematic way to create more complex modules from simpler ones; and the evolved representations can capture intrinsic properties of the design space, so that variations in the representations move through the design space more effectively than equivalent-sized changes in a nongenerative representation. Using this system, we demonstrate for the first time the evolution and construction of modular, three-dimensional, physically locomoting robots, comprising many more components than previous work on body-brain evolution.
Date of Publication: Aug. 2003