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Bizarre Soft Robots Evolve to Run

These simulated robots may be wacky looking, but they've evolved on their own to be fast and efficient

1 min read
Bizarre Soft Robots Evolve to Run

This crazy looking thing is a simulated robot, made up of two different kinds of muscles along with bones and soft tissue for structure. This robot wasn't designed, it was evolved over a thousand virtual generations to move as fast, as far, and as functionally as possible.

It's nice that these researchers (including Jeff Clune from the University of Wyoming, who posted this video) are totally aware that these robots are wacky little things, but it's kind of amazing how successful evolution is at creating success out of just a few basic structures. And in the greater scheme of things, 1,000 generations is not a whole lot: in human terms, that's only 25,000 years, while modern Homo Sapiens have been around for ten times as long.

If this whole thing seems a bit familiar, it's because it's from some of the same researchers who worked on the Golem Project over a decade ago, including Cornell's Hod Lipson. Golem took things a step farther by evolving robots and then actually building them with a 3D printer:

The Golem paper, Automatic design and manufacture of robotic lifeforms (one of the coolest paper titles ever), can be read here

The current research has been published in Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, with the impressive title of Unshackling Evolution: Evolving Soft Robots with Multiple Materials and a Powerful Generative Encoding.

[ Jeff Clune ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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