While displaying these robots, I observed that the thousands of people who interacted with them, projected their own social realities upon these devices which were little more than motors zip tied to plastic household utensils. The obvious shortcoming of the Simple Bots approach was that no matter what personalities people projected upon these creations, they ultimately implicitly understood that these creatures were robotic.
This led me to wonder what would happen if I built robots that were more intentionally organic-like and fluid in motion. Would people perceive them as being even more alive? Was there a threshold where people would stop perceiving them as robots and start perceiving them as living organisms? However, before I could answer these questions, I needed to figure out the mechanics that would allow these motions.
While I could have explored a number of different fabrication processes, I recently found myself with unlimited access to eight Objet Connex 500 3D printers. Aside from having an incredibly high print resolution, what makes these printers unique is their ability to print digital materials with a wide range of hardnesses and colors. These printers essentially allow the different materials to be mixed together to create a Pantone-like scale for material hardness. This was particularly compelling for this type of robotics because it would provide the ability to print highly accurate assemblies that simultaneously contained rigid and flexible materials. By printing materials with different hardness, flex, stretch, and torsion properties, I would be able to print life-like joints and musculature. With this in mind, I set out to make biologically inspired designs using 3D printing technologies.
All digital models were created using 123D Design on account of its ease of use, and ability to be downloaded and used for free. This is an intentional decision to make the project open, and modifiable. It is my hope that others will be able to download my files, iterate upon my solutions, and ultimately expand my research. All content contained herein is licensed with a Creative Commons 2.5 Share-Alike Non-Commercial Attribution license.
Step 1: A Note on Evolution
Most notably, Vogul points out:
- "nature is not only glacial in speed, but lacking in versatility"
- "most variations [mutations] are either neutral or detrimental"
- "innovation comes hard, and once achieve it disseminates entirely within a lineage"
- "diversity in nature represents superficial features of an exceedingly conservative and stereotyped character"
While it may be tempting to describe robotics in terms of evolution, I think it is better to view it as an iterative process. This process, while very similar to evolution, is noticeably different. As evolution repeatedly demonstrates, most change is detrimental, blind and slow. Iteration, on the other hand, is (ideally) beneficial, intentional, and fast. One rarely iterates if they don't think the subsequent version is going to be an improvement or will illuminate something that will help to move other iterations forward. Just as organic-like machines are similar to life, but not replicating it; so is the case that the process for making these machines should be evolution-like, but not a perfect repetition.