René Doursat
 PhD, Habil.

Research Scientist & Fmr. Director

Complex Systems Institute, Paris Ile-de-France (ISC-PIF)
French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Research Unit UPS3611

113, rue Nationale
75013 Paris, France


Edited Proceedings

Home Page
   • Morphogenesis
   • Morphogenetic
   • Neuroscience
   • Evolution & Ecology
Activities, Grants
Education, Career

Morphogenetic Engineering  
Designing decentralized, autonomous systems inspired by morphogenesis, with applications in swarm robotics, distributed software, and ICT networks or power grids
I have founded the field of morphogenetic engineering, the first initiative of its kind to establish a new trend of research exploring the modeling and implementation of "self-architecturing" systems. It focuses on the programmability of self-assembling agents, which is often underappreciated in complex systems science—while, conversely, the benefits of self-organization are often underappreciated in systems engineering.

Classical engineered products (mechanical, electrical, computer, civil) are generally made of a number of unique, heterogeneous components assembled in very precise and complicated ways. They are expected to work as deterministically as possible following the specifications given by their designers. By contrast, self-organization in natural systems (physical, biological, ecological, social) often relies on myriads of identical agents and essentially stochastic dynamics. More →

EMBENG – Embryomorphic Engineering (2D)  
Abstract modeling and simulation of the fundamental principles of self-patterning and self-assembly during embryonic development, for exportation to artificial systems
The spontaneous making of an entire organism from a single cell is the epitome of a self-organizing and programmable complex system. Through a precise spatiotemporal interplay of genetic switches and chemical gradients, an elaborate form is created without explicit architectural plan or engineering. Embryomorphic engineering, a methodology I created, proposes a multi-agent abstraction of these fundamental morphogenetic mechanisms toward artificial systems.
A precursor instance of morphogenetic engineering, embryomorphic engineering proposes an artificial reconstruction of biological morphogenesis. Inspired by "evo-devo" (see e.g. Kirschner & Gerhart 2005), it focuses on the causal and programmable link from genotype to phenotype at these two levels simultaneously, something needed in many emerging computational domains. More →
MAPDEVO – Modular Architecture by Programmable Development (3D)  
A study of functional artificial morphologies through a model of animated embryomorphic organisms immersed in a virtual 3D environment
In this work, carried out by my PhD student Carlos Sánchez under the co-supervision of Taras Kowaliw, development follows the same principles as the precursor 2D EMBENG model—self-assembly by elastic forces, pattern formation by gradient propagation and gene expression. In addition here, developed organisms can generate movement by contracting adhesion links between "muscle" cells, while other cells have differentiated into "bones" and "joints" to support and articulate the body’s structure.
While the task of "meta-designing" laws of artificial development inspired from biology is already challenging, it only constitutes the first part of the embryomorphic engineering effort. Once a self-developing infrastructure is mature, what other computing and behavioral capabilities can it support? More →
PROGNET – Network Growth by Programmable Attachment (nD)  
The self-assembly of complex but precise network topologies by programmed attachment: An example of model extending embryomorphic engineering from multicellular organisms to graphs
In this model of autonomous network construction and dynamics, which I derived from EMBENG, and was in part implemented by MSc students A. MacDonald & R. Dordea, nodes execute the same program in parallel, communicate and differentiate, while links are dynamically created and removed based on "ports" and "gradients" that guide nodes to specific attachment locations. As the network expands, nodes switch different rules on and off, creating chains, lattices, and other composite topologies.
Nodes carry various pairs of attachment ports (X, X') and corresponding gradient values (x, x'). Node ports can be "free" (not linked to other ports from other nodes) or "occupied" (linked), while free ports can be "open" (available for a connection) or "closed" (disabled). New nodes that just arrived in the system's space, or nodes that are not yet connected, have both ports open and gradients set to 0. More →