Future Made of Virtual Insanity

A team from Utrecht University and University of British Columbia have developed an amazing algorithm for “flexible muscle-based locomotion for bipedal creatures.” Their paper is available online (open-access) and they have a great video on Vimeo demonstrating their algorithm.

The “creatures” determine their own walking gait based on repeated cycles. There’s even a part in the video where they show walking at various cycles in the experiment. The first cycle creature falls down almost immediately. As the cycles progress, the creatures walk a little longer and a little straighter before falling over seemingly at random. Around cycle 1000 (or a few before) the creature finally gets the hang of walking and can move around without falling over.

The creatures (either humanoid or dinosaur-looking) aren’t given initial input on how to walk, but are “driven entirely by simulated muscle-based actuation.” The simulated muscles aren’t even put in a specific location. They start with an approximate structure and let the machine determine the best structure for walking. Essentially, the computer is evolving this creature, it’s muscles and it’s mechanism of walking, to make it stable.

Not only can these creatures walk, they can run (or hop in some cases), change directions, walk up and down small inclines, and, as for this unfortunate fellow, keep plodding along as boxes fly at him from all different directions.


An apt metaphor for the human condition.

There are great possibilities for the future of this research: understanding how creatures evolved for bipedal locomotion on Earth, simulating how creatures would evolve on another planet (maybe if we find water on a planet in a Goldilocks Zone, we could simulate what creatures living there would look like), animations could be more realistic without the need for input from an actor, or if we get really advanced we could simulate an entire universe, creating simulated life that evolves and grows, maybe even watch as they develop a philosophy saying that they’re just a simulation. It’s this kind of work that really makes you question our universe, but then makes you laugh when you see the guy above get pummeled by a giant box.

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