The use of soft robots in future space exploration is still a far-fetched idea, but an attractive one. Soft robots are inherently compliant mechanisms that are well suited for locomotion on rough terrain as often faced in extra-planetary environments. Depending on the particular application and requirements, the best shape (or body morphology) and locomotion strategy for such robots will vary substantially. Recent developments in soft robotics and evolutionary optimization showed the possibility to simultaneously evolve the morphology and locomotion strategy in simulated trials. The use of techniques such as generative encoding and neural evolution were key to these findings. In this paper, we improve further on this methodology by introducing the use of a novelty measure during the evolution process. We compare fitness search and novelty search in different gravity levels and we consistently find novelty-based search to perform as good as or better than a fitness-based search, while also delivering a greater variety of designs. We propose a combination of the two techniques using fitness-elitism in novelty search to obtain a further improvement. We then use our methodology to evolve the gait and morphology of soft robots at different gravity levels, finding a taxonomy of possible locomotion strategies that are analyzed in the context of space-exploration.

Soft Robotics, Locomotion, Novelty Search, CPPN, CPPN-NEAT, VoxCAD, Space Exploration
Software (theme 1)
Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference
Intelligent and autonomous systems

Methenitis, G, Hennes, D, Izzo, D, & Visser, A. (2015). Novelty search for soft robotic space exploration. In GECCO '15 Proceedings of the 2015 Annual Conference on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (pp. 193–200). doi:10.1145/2739480.2754731