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Living Machines

Living Machines

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09/20/2014

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Brosl HasslacherTheoretical DivisionLos Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos, NM 87545, USA<bhass@lanl.gov>Mark W. TildenPhysics DivisionLos Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos, NM 87545, USA<mwtilden@lanl.gov>
Living Machines
Figure A: “Bug of the badlands”
 
Living Machines
Brosl HasslacherTheoretical DivisionLos Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos, NM 87545, USA<bhass@lanl.gov>Mark W. TildenPhysics DivisionLos Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos, NM 87545, USA<mwtilden@lanl.gov>
Abstract
Our aim is to sketch the boundaries of a parallel track in the evolution of robotic formsthat is radically different from any previously attempted. To do this we will firstdescribe the motivation for doing so and then the strategy for achieving it. Along theway, it will become clear that the machines we design and build are not robots in anytraditional sense. They are not machines designed to perform a set of goal oriented tasks,or work, but rather to express modes of survivalist behavior: the survival of a mobileautonomous machine in an a priori unknown and possibly hostile environment. We useno notion of conventional "intelligence" in our designs, although we suspect some strangeform of that may come later. Our topic is survival oriented machines, and it turns outthat intelligence in any sophisticated form is unnecessary for this concept. For suchmachines, if life is provisionally defined as that which moves for its own purposes, thenwe are dealing with living machines and how to evolve them. We call these machinesbiomorphs (
BIO
logical
MORPH
ology), a form of parallel life.
Introduction to Biomorphic Machines
One difference between biological carbon based life forms and the mobile survivalmachines we will discuss are materials platforms, which can be metals, plastics, silicon-- a large variety of materials, but as we take these principles and descend in scale, itbecomes clear that we could use many of the ready made protein structures provided bymolecular cell biology for other purposes. We could in principle self-assemble this newmachine life out of carbon chemistry at the scale of the cell, using the cells' ingredients,power sources and ATP engines. Doing that would not recover cell-centered biology, butmanufacture novel, potentially useful life forms that have apparently escaped thenormal path of evolution.What is different about biomorphic machines from typical mobile platform designs isnot their materials base but how they are organized. They use a dynamical, non-symbolic internal world representation and compliant, bi-directional, interactiveresponse where the external world assumes a crucial role. In this they have much incommon with biological forms which is not accidental; these machines are designed alongbiological paradigms rather than on first principle notions of how such machines shouldbe organized. We take the viewpoint that such principles will have to be discovered byexperiment rather than postulated by pure reason. In a sense these machines are
 
evolved by physicists and engineers looking through biological eyes. Ultimatelyhowever, biomorphs are self designed by the machines' own emergent survivalcapabilities.This is a study in experimental machine morphology and psychology. Over 70 workingmachines have been built and principles extracted to design more efficient but lesscomplex machines with better cost-verses-survival functionality. We consider thisfield an experimental science in which we both learn from the machines and are for themoment their evolutionary agents.The simplest way to describe a biomorphic device is to say that the whole machine acts asan analog computer, designed along biological paradigms, to move in, interact with, andsurvive in an unknown but fractal external world. There is no notion of programming,but rather adaptive, parallel reconfiguring of signals in neuron circuits, typically inring topologies. These structures compute, but not in any digital sense. This leads to theidea of a biomorphic architecture.
Biomorphic Architectures and Global Machines
Biomorphic architecture is autonomous machine architecture modeled on compliantskeletal wandering mechanisms found in biology. All effective computation is done inanalog and from the periphery inward. It is modular and tiered. No digital computationis ever done within the motion platform, although digital pulse trains are used for motordrive and control. The essence is a core of electronic neurons that is bidirectionallyconnected to standard sensors and "smart" mechanical appendages that locally do much ofthe immediate computation necessary for their function.From a systems viewpoint the entire mechanism is a single analog computer with a localmodular architecture, where analog computation occurs in two realizations: mechanicalat the machine periphery and electronic at the core. The simplest non-trivial morphicarchitecture is a mobile survival platform using only mechanics and an electronic core.This allows for sufficient, if not efficient, negotiation of undefined, complex terrains.Operationally, a biomorphic machine is a global rather than local object despite itsmodular construction. The entire device acts as a unit with mesoscale properties thatcould not be inferred from a description of its components. In this way it resemblescellular automata which are collections of simple finite state machines whose timeevolution proceeds by simple rules. Nevertheless the range of behaviors possible fromsuch a setup extends from trivial fixed point behavior to Turing machines. Thesebehaviors are collective or emergent and arise at the mesoscale of the system. Anexample is the cellular automata model for the Navier-Stokes equation for fluids; thecollective behavior at the mesoscale of a very simple set of cellular automata rules. Inbiomorphic architectures we do not have finite state machines in the normal sense, sincethere is no concept of digital or symbol, nor preset update rules, only dynamicinteractions among the parts of the machine. However the analogy is familiar territoryand a good one to keep in mind.Although trivial pieces of biomorphic machines, such as an entire leg can be removed,altered or damaged without altering the machines' behavior, modifications to the internalneural architecture will alter global response drastically. Most biomorph machine"nets" employed so far are in loop and/or link ring structures with a single minimalcontrol core that once set cannot be topologically altered without creating a completely

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