Evolving soft locomotion in aquatic and terrestrial environments: Effects of material properties and environmental transitions

Francesco Corucci, Nick Cheney, Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, Josh Bongard, Cecilia Laschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Designing soft robots poses considerable challenges; automated design approaches may be particularly appealing in this field, as they promise to optimize complex multimaterial machines with very little or no human intervention. Evolutionary soft robotics is concerned with the application of optimization algorithms inspired by natural evolution to let soft robots (both their morphologies and controllers) spontaneously evolve within physically realistic simulated environments, figuring out how to satisfy a set of objectives defined by human designers. In this article, a powerful evolutionary system is put in place to perform a broad investigation on the free-form evolution of simulated walking and swimming soft robots in different environments. Three sets of experiments are reported, tackling different aspects of the evolution of soft locomotion. The first two explore the effects of different material properties on the evolution of terrestrial and aquatic soft locomotion: particularly, we show how different materials lead to the evolution of different morphologies, behaviors, and energy-performance trade-offs. It is found that within our simplified physics world, stiffer robots evolve more sophisticated and effective gaits and morphologies on land, while softer ones tend to perform better in water. The third set of experiments starts investigating the effect and potential benefits of major environmental transitions (land→water) during evolution. Results provide interesting morphological exaptation phenomena and point out a potential asymmetry between land→water and water→land transitions: while the first type of transition appears to be detrimental, the second one seems to have some beneficial effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-493
Number of pages19
JournalSoft Robotics
Volume5
Issue number4
Early online date9 Jul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

Keywords

  • evolutionary soft robotics, evolved soft robots, material properties, optimization, physical simulation, soft locomotion

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