Bizarre walking strategies of artifically evolved organisms

Here's a mesmerizing ten-minute video from the Darwin@Home project (which harnesses idle computers to simulate evolution) that shows the different, bizarre randomly evolved walking-strategies that have emerged from the simulations. Darwin at Home in Ten Minutes (via Kottke)


  1. Very interesting, but it looks like the bodies have been ‘designed’ (for lack of a better term) although the video claims the bodies evolve too.

    I would love to see body shapes evolve spontaneously from a few simple shapes.

    But the animations are fantastic, and definitely move toward my idea of what extraterrestrial life could look like. I think that anything a human can imagine is too constrained by previous thought to truly imagine a creature from another planet.

    Also: reminds me a lot of Theo Jansen’s work. I wonder if there’s a connection?

  2. Very nice – but I still prefer the stuff Karl Sims did back in 1994:

    Sims had a good wide range of critter body shapes and some nice swimming motion. I think his stuff was done on the old Connection Machine, wasn’t it?

  3. It sounds like a commercial for a cult, with this driving desire the narrator has to create compelling artificial life.

    Are people building shaped creatures, and letting them randomly wiggles their muscles, through cycles, with the sole selection being which wriggler get furthest from the center? Sounds like fun, until they vibrate their asses at a frequency their scientists will determine drives you mad.

  4. Did anyone else feel kind of sorry for the one that flopped around uselessly around 2:45?

  5. I just watched the vice presidential debate and can I just say that this video chilled me waaaay out. It was the unicorn chaser if I ever saw one…

  6. This video was oddly compelling, and I liked the voiceover especially.

    I missed the VP debate. Gotta find it online (then come back and unicorn chase?)

  7. @ KAIZA: ALSO reminded me of Theo Jansen.

    @ BRBRBRAD: ALSO reminded me of Carl Sagan.

    ALSO reminded me of Lawnmower Man, final scene.

    ALSO reminded me of Spore.

  8. “How does the program determine which species to kill off, though? I see no reproduction mechanism.”

    I don’t know the specific method they’re using, but generally with genetic algorithms you have a fitness function that gives a numeric value. This numeric value is used as a weight when determining which artificial life forms reproduce in a given generation; it’s determined randomly, but those with a high fitness have a greater chance. In this case, the fitness appears to simply be how far the creature travels in a given ammount of time.

    How reproduction takes place is a more complicated question (are you combining traits from two parents and how are you going about combining the data from each parent to do that, what rate of mutation are you using to make sure new traits are introduced, and so on), but that’s how they choose who reproduces in a given generation and who doesn’t.

  9. Very cool. Makes me wish Spore had lived up to expectations.

    As for the critters looking “designed”, here’s the video’s description from the website:

    “This was the first collections of video segments of bodies that were built by hand in the Build-Evolve version of the software, and evolved to run like crazy. They exist in a large variety of different sets of physics parameters and they always prevail in one way or another, given enough generations of evolution.”

    So it sounds like the structures were designed for these ones, but the movement patterns are the product of evolving changes.

  10. Aaaaaannd the Singularity inches ever closer …and closer..

    Incidentally, for those with interest in such things;did you notice that the creatures are made out of pyramids, the floor is a black and white checkerboard, and a big red sun over head?

    just sayin’.

    Nice video , though, and fun science.

  11. Any references to the work done by Karl Sims ? I quick look at their website didn’t find one… Nice stuff anyway!

  12. I’m sure this is a fun programming project, but it isn’t science. All of these crippled, flopping zombies would have been eaten by predators shortly after emerging into the world.
    Also, the fact that ‘Arms and legs are not necessary’ is not exactly news to anyone with a passing acquaintance with biology…or with the outside world in general, really.

  13. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, or they could’ve been intelligently designed by Fluxe!


    couldn’t resit – i’m listening to Steve Mursky talk about “Evolution of anti-evolution” at the moment

  14. I’m a huge fan of all things evolution. I’m also really into cool stuff like that. I don’t know why… but…

    At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that your spare cycles could be more useful in other projects such as folding at home.

    Sorry for being negative.

  15. How does the program determine which species to kill off, though? I see no reproduction mechanism.

    The source code is available, it’s straight Java.

  16. It would be interesting with surface variations like slopes, sand, obstacles, ice, mud, etc.And the joints look like a single point.

    Wonder if solving the kinematics to find the revolute joint torques would support an actual implementable physical design.

  17. Wild!

    About 2 years ago, maybe, I did something similar in 2D called “evolution of walking”– Balls with tentacle legs likewise evolve shape and movement, based on either speed or ability to sweep “food” from the air, or the operator’s whim. It’s done in the obscure language NetLogo, and also open source. I’ll have to look at the code–maybe I can speed up their integrator or something!

    My model page is at

    It’s the first model in the list (java applet)

  18. @23

    Totally agree!

    It would also be interesting to add further constraints- such as the kind of stability of gait that would allow precise vision, or reduce wear and tear on joints.

    Or to add a constraint imposed by phylogeny- run the evolution algorithms in a dense/buoyant medium for a while, and then move the creature into a less dense / less buoyant medium (somewhat like radiating onto land)… or vice versa.

  19. These are some great ideas! In the community we’re starting to talk about changing the physics to allow swimming or flying.

    Interesting in the context of buildability is that the joints don’t hinge much at all. Maybe they don’t even have to be hinges, just flexible.

    I recently built a real-life model of one of the virtual models.

  20. #1: Penguin
    #2: Gorilla
    #3: Seal
    #4: What the..?
    #5: same as #4
    #6: Badger?
    #7: Frog
    #8: Smaller frog
    #9: Sidewinder Snake (Crotalus cerastes)
    #10: Insect
    #11: Lobster Boy Drunk on Fernet
    #12: Lizard
    #13: Bunny (sort of)
    #14: Some Creepy Centipede Thing

  21. How many of these would still have evolved if they had pain sensors or experienced wear and tear from friction?

  22. It doesn’t look like any of these strategies are being tested for energy efficiency.. wouldn’t that be a powerful directive force of evolution?

  23. The stuff I’m building now is all about energy-accounted executions of subroutines defined directly by good old ones and zeros. This will make it easy to introduce striving for energy efficiency. I agree that it will probably be an excellent selective pressure.

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