Link to original article

Scientists Build Bridge Toward 'Thinking' Robots 

October 1, 1999 

WALTHAM, Mass. (Reuters) - It's not exactly the Golden Gate --
just a 6 1/2 foot (2 meter) span made of children's Lego blocks
-- but the bridge designed by a computer at Brandeis University
could be a step toward the creation of intelligent robots,
researchers said Friday. 

Unlike the relatively common practice of computer-aided-design,
in which humans use software to improve the design of
structures, researchers at Brandeis programmed a computer to use
evolutionary steps to design a bridge, as well as a crane and a
table, all made with plastic Lego blocks. 

"The computer was given the model of the physics of Lego
structures ... and it was given a goal," explained Jordan
Pollack, a computer-science professor at Brandeis. 

Using algorithms to conduct a trial-and-error process based on
the properties of Lego blocks and the almost infinite
possibilities of combining them, the computer spent a day and a
half and came up with a cantilevered design for a bridge. When
Pollack and his colleagues assembled it, the bridge proved
structurally sound. 

The process essentially adds an evolutionary dimension to
computer-aided design, which could ultimately result in
inexpensive robots that design themselves to address problems,
Pollack said. 

Robots as popularly construed are really just puppets, Pollack
said: "We're trying to get to the situation where, as in nature,
there never is a body without a corresponding brain." 

The work was funded in part by the U.S. Office of Naval Research
and the National Science Foundation.