The Evolution Park provides an experimental testbed for applying
evolutionary computation to the development and control of
autonomous robotic systems. In this environment, artificial
creatures can evolve in silico, be fabricated into
physical forms, be tested under realistic conditions, and even be
deployed to assist in scientific investigations of living
organisms. The overriding theme of the project is to construct a
facility that supports exploration of the interaction of (natural
and artificial) creatures with their surrounding environment, and
the effects of that interaction on the evolutionary process.
An Objet Connex 350 Multi-material
3D printer enables realization of physical bodies (morphologies)
that evolve concurrently with their control systems. The
fabricated bodies can be coupled with electroactive polymer
materials to produce artificial organisms capable of locomotion
without motors. In addition, a collection of specially
instrumented aquatic environments will support mixed
populations, where robotic fish are used as stimuli to
elicit behavioral responses in living fish under conditions
manipulated by the experimenter. A collection of
high-performance graphics workstations with large monitors
facilitate fine-grained, interactive analysis of evolved
behaviors in simulated robots, as well as analysis of video data
captured by underwater cameras. To maximize its impact, the
testbed will be integrated with existing research facilities,
including an existing testbed comprising a heterogeneous swarm of
indoor mobile robots, a school of robotic fish in a large,
custom-built water tank, and a rack-mounted parallel computing
cluster for evolution experiments. The combined infrastructure
provides a rich computing and communication fabric for studying
the evolution and behavior of complex systems.
Intellectual Merit. The Evolution Park facilitates a form
of biomutualism, where biology, engineering, and computer
science inform one another in synergystic and mutually beneficial
ways. Evolved, living systems can inform computing and
engineering; computational experiments can inform studies of
behavioral evolution and improve robot design; and robots can
facilitate testing particular behaviors in living animals.
Initially, the testbed will support research projects that
address three key aspects of the evolutionary process: (1)
coevolution of morphology and behaviors in individuals, (2)
evolution of communication among organisms, and (3) evolution of
collective mobility behaviors and strategies needed to carry out
complex tasks. Collectively, these studies will produce
important knowledge on how both artificial and natural organisms
respond to dynamic conditions and cooperate with one another.
Moreover, the testbed is likely to stimulate many synergistic
research activities among a broad, multidisciplinary community of
Broader Impacts. On a broader scale, advances in
capabilities of mobile robots will benefit many applications in
science, engineering, public safety, and national defense.
Experimental research, in which prototypes are developed and
evaluated in environments that reflect real-world issues and
constraints, is critical to that effort. In addition to its
primary mission in research, the proposed infrastructure will
support several innovative educational and outreach activities.
One such endeavor is the Evolution Park Adventure, a framework
for hands-on experiments that combine biological principles,
computation, and engineering, which will be developed and
integrated into university courses, teacher training workshops,
summer camps and after-school programs for K-12 students.
Such programs will enable students to gain hands-on experience with
evolutionary robotics and its applications in science and
The Evolution Park project is supported by National Science
"II-EN: Evolution Park - An Evolutionary Robotics Habitat for the
Study of Crawling, Swimming and Flying Creatures."