Northwestern University researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) that can design robots from scratch. The AI program is fast and lightweight, unlike other systems that require supercomputers and large datasets. The researchers tested the AI by asking it to design a robot that can walk on a flat surface. In seconds, the AI generated a blueprint for a walking robot that looks unlike any animal on Earth. The study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The AI-designed robot represents a new era of AI-designed tools that can directly interact with the world.
The AI program starts with a simple prompt and quickly iterates on the design to achieve the desired goal. For example, the researchers asked the AI to design a physical machine capable of walking on land. The AI started with a block and updated its structure through iterations. After just nine tries, the AI generated a robot that can walk at half the speed of an average human stride. The entire design process took only 26 seconds on a laptop.
The AI surprisingly discovered that legs are an efficient way to move on land, similar to nature. However, the AI took a different approach and designed a robot with three legs, fins, a flat face, and holes throughout its body. The researchers used the AI-designed robot as a blueprint and 3D printed a mold to create a squishy and flexible robot. By pumping air into the robot, it can expand and contract its legs for locomotion.
The holes in the robot’s body are important for its walking ability, although their exact function is unknown. The researchers hypothesize that the holes reduce weight and add flexibility, enabling the robot to bend its legs. Overall, the AI-designed robot’s unconventional design opens up new possibilities and paths forward for robotics.
In the future, the AI program could be used to design tools for various applications. For example, robots could navigate collapsed buildings to search for trapped individuals, traverse sewer systems for diagnostics and repairs, or even design nano-robots for medical purposes like unclogging arteries or killing cancer cells. The AI’s ability to generate new ideas could help solve complex problems that humans have yet to consider.