Researchers at the Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC) at The University of Western Australia have created a biologically inspired computer model that can autonomously design urban residential layouts without human assistance.
According to the study published in the journal Environment and Planning B, the model mimics the biological process of development, during which a single cell, the embryo, grows into a full organism.
The universal modules were created to play similar roles to biological cells. They are genetically identical with full developmental potentials but will change their physical forms to adapt to their own local context.
Lead author Mr Chao Sun said while many bio-inspired algorithms have had great success in using Darwinian evolution to improve designs, this focuses on how to create new designs in the first place. The computer has to design from scratch and the plans it produces are better than manually constructed plans according to pre-defined performance measures.
"This is learning from nature from a different perspective," Mr Sun said.
"As the great geneticist Hugo de Vries stated, ‘Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest (quoted in Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution's Greatest Puzzle by Andreas Wagner)."
"Nature doesn't have a conscious mind as we do, but yet, it has created complex systems way beyond our understanding. This study provides new insights into how complexity arrives through simple interactions, a phenomenon known as emergence. We've known for some time the prevalence of emergent behaviours in nature, but to make use of it requires some creative thinking. There's still a lot to be learnt from the greatest designer of all, nature, and there're still plenty of unanswered questions,"
"I know that a trained architect programming a biologically inspired computer model in the business school is a rather unusual combination, but I just followed my curiosity here," Mr Sun said.
The research is part of Chao Sun's PhD study, which was funded by the Australian Research Council and collaborating partner, The Village at Wellard, in a Linkage project. Mr Sun thanks his supervisor Emeritus Professor John Taplin for being an inspirational mentor and his co-supervisor Associate Professor Min Qiu for valuable insights. He also thanks UWA Faculty of Science and Business School for their generous support.
PATREC is a collaboration between three Western Australian public universities: The University of Western Australia, Curtin University and Edith Cowan University. It also receives financial support from the Department of Transport, Main Roads Western Australia and Planning WA.
Chao Sun (PATREC, UWA) (+61 8) 6488 8720 / (+61 4) 32 936 960
Christianne White (WA Centre for Health and Ageing) (+61 8) 9224 2993 / (+61 4) 15 213 661
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716