Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) has developed a moving robot that is created automatically using a genetic software algorithm.
Without the intervention of a designing engineer, IPA was able to model the movements for robots consisting of cylinder-shaped tubes with ball-and-socket joints that take different shapes depending on external factors and the purpose at hand. The algorithm includes fitness functions that select movement elements that advance the robot. It determines the shape of the tubes, the position of the movement points, and the position of the actuators. "The only input needed is: 'Move forward as efficiently as possible along a level surface,'" says IPA developer Andreas Fischer. Environmental conditions such as unevenness, climbing stairs, or swimming in water are simulated, and the designer has the opportunity to choose the best solution from a multitude of options.
"Another advantage is that the algorithm often spits out surprising variations—'mutations' that would not necessarily have occurred to the designer," Fischer says.
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