Evolutionary Fabrication: The Co-Evolution of Form and Formation


Evolutionary Design has been used to automatically generate a wide variety of novel and creative objects such as circuits, robots, and satellite antennae. And yet, despite the availability of sophisticated rapid prototyping machines capable of printing objects out of plastic, metal, and even circuitry, relatively few of these evolved designs have been physically manufactured in the real world. We argue that the cause of this paucity of physical artifacts lies in the “design first, build later” philosophy of contemporary Evolutionary Design. By only specifying the form of an object, this approach leaves unanswered the vital question of formation. As evolved forms become more complex, their formation becomes increasingly difficult for both humans and computers to discover. As a consequence, there is a growing Fabrication Gap between the complexity of objects which we can evolve and those which we can manufacture. The alternative proposed here is to use Artificial Ontogenies, a computational method inspired by the biological processes of growth, in order to directly evolve the formation of objects. We introduce Evolutionary Fabrication, the direct evolution of assembly instructions within a simulated manufacturing system, and show that this approach is capable of injecting the novelty and creativity associated with evolution- ary approaches into the realm of fabrication, generating not just novel objects, but novel means of assembling those objects as well. Ultimately, the evolution of form and formation become fully intertwined when the language of assembly itself becomes subject to evolution, capable of discovering increasingly large sub-assemblies and adding them to its vocabulary. Through this co-evolution of form and formation, Evolutionary Fabrication discovers both how to build objects and what to build them out of. In this manner, Evolutionary Fabrication is capable of designing and assembling scalably complex objects in a hierarchical manner, even in the presence of error during assembly. Via this co-evolution of form and formation, Evolutionary Fabrication circum- vents the Fabrication Gap, leading the way to systems which can move from broad specification to complete artifact without the need for further human intervention. This budding field of Fully Automated Design and Manufacture will have an impact on realms ranging from product design to planetary exploration.