The Golem Project

Automatic Design and Manufacture of Robotic Lifeforms
Hod Lipson and Jordan B. Pollack
CS Dept., Brandeis University

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Interested in a graduate research position in Evolutionary Robotics?
Hod Lipson (Cornell) or Jordan Pollack (Brandeis)
In applications specify current affiliation and prior research experience/publications if available.

Evolution of machines

Download movies and the screensaver experiment (2.45)

The field of Artificial Life examines "life as it could be" based on understanding the principles and simulating the mechanisms of real biological forms. Just as airplanes use the same principles as birds, but have fixed wings, artificial lifeforms may share the same principles, but not the same implementation in chemistry. Every feature of living systems seems wondrous until it is understood: Stored energy, autonomous movement, and even animal communication are no longer miracles, as they are replicated in toys using batteries, motors, and computer chips.

Complex biological forms reproduce by taking advantage of an arbitrarily complex set of auto-catalyzing chemical reactions. Biological life is in control of its own means of reproduction, and this autonomy of design and manufacture is a key element which has not yet been understood or reproduced artificially. To this date, robots - a form of artificial life - are still designed laboriously and constructed by teams of human engineers at great cost. Few robots are available because these costs must be absorbed through mass production that is justified only for toys, weapons, and industrial systems like automatic teller machines.

In the Golem project (Genetically Organized Lifelike Electro Mechanics) we conducted a set of experiments in which simple electro-mechanical systems evolved from scratch to yield physical locomoting machines. Like biological lifeforms whose structure and function exploit the behaviors afforded by their own chemical and mechanical medium, our evolved creatures take advantage of the nature of their own medium - thermoplastic, motors, and artificial neurons. We thus achieve autonomy of design and construction using evolution in a limited universe physical simulation, coupled to off-the-shelf rapid manufacturing technology. This is the first time robots have been robotically designed and robotically fabricated.

What would you like to learn more about?

  • The automatic design method, based on evolutionary compuation
  • The automatic fabrication method, based on rapid prototyping
  • The physics simulator we used
  • Some of our results
  • The conclusions
  • Other issues:

  • Where this project is going next
  • Participation in the Golem@Home experiment
  • Related projects in our lab
  • Download the program and try for yourself
  • The Golem Legend and some philosophical implications
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
  • What the press and popular media say
  • Further reading

    H. Lipson and J. B. Pollack (2000), "Automatic design and Manufacture of Robotic Lifeforms", Nature 406, pp. 974-978.
    R. Brooks (2000) From Robot Dreams to Reality, Nature 406, pp. 946-947
    N. Forbes (2000) "Life as it could be: Alife attempts to simulate evolution", IEEE Intelligent Systems, December 2000, pp. 1-6
    M. Mitchell (1996) An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms, MIT Press
    C. Adami (1998), Introduction to Artificial Life, Springer Verlag
    P. Husbands, J. A. Meyer (1998), Evolutionary Robotics, Springer Verlag
    S. Nolfi, D. Floreano (2000), The Biology, Intelligence, and Technology of Self-Organizing Machines, MIT Press
    Supported in part by DARPA / ITO
    US Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration

    Copyright (c) 2000
    Lipson & Pollack