Letting the Robotics Industry Show Us a Unique Brand of Evolution

The human arsenal is always well-equipped to achieve a variety of objectives, but the best thing it has an on the offer is that ability to improve under all circumstances. This ability, in particular, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for one hot second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiated a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, the next thing this revolution did was to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

The researching team at Northwestern University has successfully developed the world’s first ever artificial intelligence system, which comes with the ability to design robots from scratch. According to certain reports, the development started with researchers requesting AI to design a physical machine capable of walking on land. Once this command was in, the AI took a block similar to the size of soap bar and began refining its design.  After every such attempt, the AI system would assess the result, identify flaws, and then make the necessary adjustments to update the structure. By doing so, it was able to make the block well-equipped in regards to bouncing in one place, hopping forward, or shuffling. During this process, the AI also, interestingly enough, punched holes throughout the robot’s body in seemingly random places. However, it wasn’t erratic or anything, as researchers chalked it up to porosity removing weight and instilling flexibility so to let the robot bend its legs for walking.  All in all, the system took nine tries to finally produce a robot that could walk half its body length per second and half the speed of an average human stride. Now, while the nine tries do seem like a lot, the shapeless block eventually became a robot in no more than 26 seconds.

To confirm if their latest brainchild can actually work in real life, the researchers 3D-printed a mold of the negative space around the robot’s body. Next up, they filled the mold with liquid silicone rubber and let it cure for a couple hours. Upon popping solidified silicone out of the mold, the team found it to be squishy and flexible. Anyway, they then filled the rubber robot body with air, making its three legs expand. Correspondingly, when the air deflated from the robot’s body, the legs contracted, thus indicating a slow but steady locomotion.

“We discovered a very fast AI-driven design algorithm that bypasses the traffic jams of evolution, without falling back on the bias of human designers,” said Sam Kriegman, a researcher at Northwestern University who led the study. “We told the AI that we wanted a robot that could walk across land. Then we simply pressed a button and presto—it generated a blueprint for a robot in the blink of an eye that looks nothing like any animal that has ever walked the earth. I call this process ‘instant evolution.”

In case Kriegman’s name rings a bell, then you might have heard it back in 2020, when the researcher was lauded for developing xenobots, the first living robots made entirely from biological cells. The development in question now realizes a whole new feather into his cap.

Talk about possible use cases, the new robot might be able to navigate the rubble of a collapsed building, following thermal and vibrational signatures to search for trapped people and animals, or traverse sewer systems to diagnose problems, unclog pipes and repair damage. As for the AI system behind the robot, it can design nano-robots that enter the human body and steer through the blood stream to unclog arteries, diagnose illnesses, or even kill cancer cells.

“Now anyone can watch evolution in action as AI generates better and better robot bodies in real time,” Kriegman said. “Evolving robots previously required weeks of trial and error on a supercomputer, and of course before any animals could run, swim or fly around our world, there were billions upon billions of years of trial and error. This is because evolution has no foresight. It cannot see into the future to know if a specific mutation will be beneficial or catastrophic. We found a way to remove this blindfold, thereby compressing billions of years of evolution into an instant.”

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