AI designs new robot from scratch in seconds

Northwestern University researchers have developed the first AI that can intelligently design robots from scratch.

The team tested the system by giving it a simple prompt: “Design a robot that can walk across a flat surface.”

The computer started with a block about the size of a bar of soap. Knowing it was unable to walk, as instructed, the AI began making iterations of the design.

With each new version, the resulting robot improved on previous flaws. After nine tries, the AI algorithm designed a robot riddled with holes and with three legs, rear fins and a flat face. It generated a robot design that could walk half its body length per second – about half the speed of an average human stride.

The entire design process – from a shapeless block with zero movement to a full-on walking robot – took just 26 seconds on a laptop.

“We discovered a very fast AI-driven design algorithm that bypasses the traffic jams of evolution, without falling back on the bias of human designers,” said researcher Sam Kriegman. “We told the AI that we wanted a robot that could walk across land. Then we simply pressed a button and presto! It generated a blueprint for a robot in the blink of an eye that looks nothing like any animal that has ever walked the earth. I call this process ‘instant evolution.’”

The AI programme runs on a lightweight personal computer and it is able to design wholly novel structures from scratch. The design builds on Kriegman’s previous work on xenobots, the first living robots made entirely from biological cells.

Although it was not instructed to do so, the AI gave the robot legs to facilitate walking. 

To see if the simulated robot could work in real life, Kriegman and his team 3D printed a mould of the negative space around the robot’s body. They then filled it with liquid silicone rubber and let it cure. When the team popped the solidified silicone out of the mould, it was squishy and flexible.

Once in the physical world, the researchers filled the rubber robot body with air, making its three legs expand. When the air deflated from the robot’s body, the legs contracted. By continually pumping air into the robot, it repeatedly expanded and then contracted, creating movement. 

The robot designed by the AI is small, misshapen and made of inorganic materials. But Kriegman says it represents the first step in a new era of AI-designed tools that, like animals, can act directly on the world.

“When people look at this robot, they might see a useless gadget,” Kriegman said. “I see the birth of a brand-new organism.

“Evolving robots previously required weeks of trial and error on a supercomputer – and, of course, before any animals could run, swim or fly around our world, there were billions upon billions of years of trial and error. This is because evolution has no foresight. It cannot see into the future to know if a specific mutation will be beneficial or catastrophic. We found a way to remove this blindfold, thereby compressing billions of years of evolution into an instant.”

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Original Source: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2023/10/ai-designs-new-robot-from-scratch-in-seconds/

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