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Workshop: From Cells to Societies: Collective Learning Across Scales

A Unified Substrate for Body-Brain Co-evolution

Sidney Pontes-Filho · Kathryn Walker · Elias Najarro · Stefano Nichele · Sebastian Risi


A successful development of a complex multicellular organism took millions of years of evolution. The genome of such a multicellular organism guides the development of its body from a single cell, including its control system. Our goal is to imitate this natural process using a single neural cellular automaton (NCA) as a genome for modular robotic agents. In the introduced approach, called Neural Cellular Robot Substrate (NCRS), a single NCA guides the growth of a robot and the cellular activity which controls the robot during deployment. We also introduce three benchmark environments, which test the ability of the approach to grow different robot morphologies. We evolve the NCRS with covariance matrix adaptation evolution strategy (CMA-ES), and covariance matrix adaptation MAP-Elites (CMA-ME) for quality diversity and observe that CMA-ME generates more diverse robot morphologies with higher fitness scores. While the NCRS is able to solve the easier tasks in the benchmark, the success rate reduces when the difficulty of the task increases. We discuss directions for future work that may facilitate the use of the NCRS approach for more complex domains.

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