Evolutionary Mechanics: new engineering principles for the emergence of flexibility in a dynamic and uncertain world

Por • 7 feb, 2011 • Sección: Ciencia y tecnología
James M Whitacre, Philipp Rohlfshagen, Axel Bender, Xin Yao

Abstract: Engineered systems are designed to deftly operate under predetermined conditions yet are notoriously fragile when unexpected perturbations arise. In contrast, biological systems operate in a highly flexible manner; learn quickly adequate responses to novel conditions, and evolve new routines/traits to remain competitive under persistent environmental change. A recent theory on the origins of biological flexibility has proposed that degeneracy – the existence of multi-functional components with partially overlapping functions – is a primary determinant of the robustness and adaptability found in evolved systems. While degeneracy’s contribution to biological flexibility is well documented, there has been little investigation of degeneracy design principles for achieving flexibility in systems engineering. Actually, the conditions that can lead to degeneracy are routinely eliminated in engineering design.
With the planning of transportation vehicle fleets taken as a case study, this paper reports evidence that degeneracy improves robustness and adaptability of a simulated fleet without incurring costs to efficiency. We find degeneracy dramatically increases robustness of a fleet to unpredicted changes in the environment while it also facilitates robustness to anticipated variations. When we allow a fleet’s architecture to be adapted in response to environmental change, we find degeneracy can be selectively acquired, leading to faster rates of design adaptation and ultimately to better designs. Given the range of conditions where favorable short-term and long-term performance outcomes are observed, we propose that degeneracy design principles fundamentally alter the propensity for adaptation and may be useful within several engineering and planning contexts.


Cite as: arXiv:1101.4103v1


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