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Artificial Life

Winter 2014, Vol. 20, No. 1, Pages 143-162
(doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00101)
© 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Growing and Evolving Soft Robots
Article PDF (1002.46 KB)

Completely soft and flexible robots offer to revolutionize fields ranging from search and rescue to endoscopic surgery. One of the outstanding challenges in this burgeoning field is the chicken-and-egg problem of body-brain design: Development of locomotion requires the preexistence of a locomotion-capable body, and development of a location-capable body requires the preexistence of a locomotive gait. This problem is compounded by the high degree of coupling between the material properties of a soft body (such as stiffness or damping coefficients) and the effectiveness of a gait. This article synthesizes four years of research into soft robotics, in particular describing three approaches to the co-discovery of soft robot morphology and control. In the first, muscle placement and firing patterns are coevolved for a fixed body shape with fixed material properties. In the second, the material properties of a simulated soft body coevolve alongside locomotive gaits, with body shape and muscle placement fixed. In the third, a developmental encoding is used to scalably grow elaborate soft body shapes from a small seed structure. Considerations of the simulation time and the challenges of physically implementing soft robots in the real world are discussed.