Morphological computation and morphological control: steps toward a formal theory and applications

Artif Life. Winter 2013;19(1):9-34. doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00079. Epub 2012 Nov 27.


Morphological computation can be loosely defined as the exploitation of the shape, material properties, and physical dynamics of a physical system to improve the efficiency of a computation. Morphological control is the application of morphological computing to a control task. In its theoretical part, this article sharpens and extends these definitions by suggesting new formalized definitions and identifying areas in which the definitions we propose are still inadequate. We go on to describe three ongoing studies, in which we are applying morphological control to problems in medicine and in chemistry. The first involves an inflatable support system for patients with impaired movement, and is based on macroscopic physics and concepts already tested in robotics. The two other case studies (self-assembly of chemical microreactors; models of induced cell repair in radio-oncology) describe processes and devices on the micrometer scale, in which the emergent dynamics of the underlying physical system (e.g., phase transitions) are dominated by stochastic processes such as diffusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Electronics
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / trends
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Robotics*
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Systems Theory