Inspired by the self-organization of growing embryos and coordinated movement of multicellular assemblies such as the slime mold Dictyostelium, where each cell is controlled by the same controller (a DNA-encoded gene regulatory network), we evolve distributed gait control mechanisms for soft-bodied animats. The animats are made of compressible material, with each body region capable of independent actuation, controlled by a cell at its center. Each animat consists of hundreds of cells uniformly distributed throughout the body, each sharing the same artificial gene regulatory network and aware of the state of their local neighborhood. We found that one of the most common actuation patterns that emerged relied on cells synchronizing their oscillations in order to produce a rotating, spiral wave spanning throughout the body. We found this type of mechanism to emerge for a wide range of animat morphologies as well as in very different types of initial conditions. We investigate how the evolved controllers produce the pattern through local feedbacks and evaluate spiral stability when imperfect, noisy cells are used.

This content is only available as a PDF.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.