Self-healing, Evolving Space Probes

from the space-creatures-are-coming dept.
Waldemar Perez pointed out a New Scientist article on space scientists developing reprogrammable electronics using genetic algorithms. "Electronics engineers are giving birth to a new species of space probes that will adapt to harsh environments, heal themselves and even evolve into better, smarter machines." Read more for the rest of an excerpt from the article introduction. "The earliest ancestors of this species emerged from the electronic clutter on the lab bench in the mid-1990s. Researchers were starting to experiment with field- programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which consist of an array of logic gates–each built from dozens of transistors–interconnected by switches. Since engineers can choose which switches are open or closed, they can control how the logic gates in the circuit are connected, reconfiguring the system at will to make all kinds of simple electronics.

As software determines which switches are on and which off, engineers can even hand over control to a special kind of program called a "genetic algorithm". This encodes the state of the switches as a stream of 1s and 0s–representing open or closed switches respectively. It then uses these strings of binary data as "genetic material", adding mutations or combining different strings to create a range of new circuits in much the same way that living creatures evolve by shuffling DNA. Then the circuits are tested against a desired result and the "genes" of the best ones are fed back into the genetic algorithm so evolution can continue."

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