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."