A team at Northwestern University has created the first-ever artificial intelligence (AI) that can intelligently design robots from scratch. This groundbreaking AI is not only fast, but it can run on a lightweight personal computer and generate completely unique robot designs. Unlike other AI systems that rely on supercomputers and existing data, this AI can generate new ideas and designs without being limited by human creativity.
The researchers tested the AI by giving it a simple prompt: design a robot that can walk on a flat surface. While it took nature billions of years to evolve walking creatures, the AI algorithm was able to design a walking robot in just a few seconds.
The study, which will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showcases a revolutionary design algorithm that bypasses the usual constraints of evolution and human bias. The researchers called this process “instant evolution”.
From Creating Living Robots to AI-Designed Tools
Northwestern University researcher Sam Kriegman, who led the study, gained attention for developing xenobots, the first living robots made from biological cells, earlier this year. This new AI is viewed as the next step in exploring the potential of artificial life. Although the current robot is made of inorganic materials, it represents a new era of AI-designed tools that can directly interact with the physical world.
Kriegman stated that while some people might see the robot as a useless gadget, he sees it as the birth of a new organism.
The Design Process
The AI program starts with a prompt but takes over the design process completely. In this case, the researchers prompted the AI to design a walking robot on land. The AI started with a small block, and with each iteration, it updated the design based on flaws identified. After just nine attempts, the AI-generated a robot that could walk at approximately half the speed of an average human stride.
The entire process, from a shapeless block to a walking robot, took only 26 seconds on a regular laptop. This represents a significant leap in evolution, compressing billions of years into an instant.
The Rediscovery of Legs
Surprisingly, the AI independently arrived at the same conclusion as nature when it came to locomotion: legs. However, the AI took a different approach, designing a robot with three legs, fins, a flat face, and multiple holes throughout the body. According to Kriegman, the holes may add flexibility and reduce weight, allowing the robot to bend its legs for walking.
While the current robot can only shuffle forward, Kriegman envisions a future where AI-designed tools can navigate disaster areas, unclog pipes, and even perform medical procedures within the human body. The possibilities are vast, and the only limitation is our ability to design these tools. With AI’s help, we can explore new paths and solve some of the most challenging problems we face today.