New Scientist, 11 September 1999 

Artificial Intelligence/Artificial Life 

Evolving machines 

Will robots learn to build their own future? 

A bridge built out of Lego may help develop robots whose bodies
and brains evolve like those of living organisms 

By Robert Adler 

AN UNGAINLY bridge built out of Lego bricks may be the first
step toward developing robots whose bodies and brains evolve
together like those of a living organism. Researchers at
Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, linked a computer
program that develops Lego structures through random
combinations and changes with another that figures out if a
structure can hold together in the real world. 

Jordan Pollack and Pablo Funes set goals for their program-for
example, to span a 2-metre gap. As they describe in Artificial
Life (vol 4, p 337), the program tests each generation of
designs, weeding out those that do not work and refining those
that do. "Very simple evolution, combined with the laws of
physics, rediscovered the triangle and the cantilever to produce
support," says Pollack. 

The odd-looking but functional bridges, cranes, and tables that
emerged from their program are glimpses of a grander
vision-complex machines whose brains and bodies evolve together,
much as organisms have done. Funes points out that an organism
needs a body and brain that are both adapted to their
environment. "So let's see if we can evolve the body and the
brain together," he says. 

Working with smooth bricks that can slide over each other,
joints and motors, the researchers hope to create "disposable
robots" whose designs evolve inside a computer but which work in
the real world. "That's not something we can do today," Pollack
says, "but it's the first step."