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Adaptability to be key for future robots, study argues

New research from the CSIRO explores the possibility of making robots that emulate evolutionary adaptation so they are better able to respond to their environments.

The paper, authored by researchers from CSIRO’s Active Integrated Matter Future Science Platform (AIM FSP) and published in Nature: Machine Intelligence, argues that robots could eventually be designed to display Multi-Level Evolution (MLE), which would enable them to become more adapted to unstructured and complex environments.

“Evolution doesn’t care what something looks like. It searches a much wider design space and comes up with effective solutions that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to a human designer,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr David Howard.

“An animal like a manta ray or a kangaroo may look unusual to human eyes, but is perfectly calibrated for its environment.”

Within 20 years, technologies such as high-throughput materials discovery and characterisation, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence could enable the design of robots from the molecular level, the paper argues.

Algorithms based on natural evolution would automatically designs robots by combining a variety of materials, components, sensors and behaviours. Advanced, computer-based modelling could then rapidly test prototypes in simulated, “real world” scenarios to decide which works best.

The aim would be to create simple, highly integrated and specialised cost-effective robots that are precisely engineering for the particular tasks they are to perform in particular environments and terrains. They would also adapt on their own and improve their own performance automatically.

“CSIRO is committed to leading scientific thinking and initiated this collaboration with international researchers to understand the nature of the future in robotics. The CSIRO collaborated with researchers from Vrije University in the Netherlands, the University of Lorraine in France, and Australia’s La Trobe and Monash Universities,” said AIM FSP’s director, Dr Danielle Kennedy.

“The future science platform program is part of CSIRO’s investment in creating future industries for Australia, and helping train the next generation of researchers. AIM’s focus isn’t limited to robots, we’re also exploring the future of Food, Manufacturing, Environmental Monitoring and Industrial Design.”

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