Spatial grammar-based recurrent neural network for design form and behavior optimization

Gary M. Stump, Simon W. Miller, Michael A. Yukish, Timothy W. Simpson, Conrad Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


A novel method has been developed to optimize both the form and behavior of complex systems. The method uses spatial grammars embodied in character-recurrent neural networks (char-RNNs) to define the system including actuator numbers and degrees of freedom, reinforcement learning to optimize actuator behavior, and physics-based simulation systems to determine performance and provide (re)training data for the char-RNN. Compared to parametric design optimization with fixed numbers of inputs, using grammars and char-RNNs allows for a more complex, combinatorial infinite design space. In the proposed method, the char-RNN is first trained to learn a spatial grammar that defines the assembly layout, component geometries, material properties, and arbitrary numbers and degrees of freedom of actuators. Next, generated designs are evaluated using a physics-based environment, with an inner optimization loop using reinforcement learning to determine the best control policy for the actuators. The resulting design is thus optimized for both form and behavior, generated by a char-RNN embodying a high-performing grammar. Two evaluative case studies are presented using the design of the modular sailing craft. The first case study optimizes the design without actuated surfaces, allowing the char-RNN to understand the semantics of high-performing designs. The second case study extends the first by incorporating controllable actuators requiring an inner loop behavioral optimization. The implications of the results are discussed along with the ongoing and future work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124501
JournalJournal of Mechanical Design - Transactions of the ASME
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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