Self-replicating robots developed

Robots seem to be gaining reproductive rights even as women are losing theirs.

Robots at Cornell University are making copies of themselves without human intervention. In principle, the machines will thus be able to repair and reproduce themselves autonomously in remote environments. “Our self-replicating robots perform very simple tasks compared with intricacies in biological reproduction,” said engineer Hod Lipson, a Cornell assistant professor. “But we think they demonstrate that mechanical self-reproduction is possible and not unique to biology.”

Lipson performed the work with EE Viktor Zykov, doctoral candidate Bryant Adams and graduate student Efstathios Mytilinaios at Cornell. The goal of the engineers’ work is to draw upon biological principles to enable robots to repair themselves as well as assemble “helpers.” Such a capability would be especially useful in space, on the ocean floor or inside a “hot” nuclear reactor after a spill, they said.

Lipson’s team created a modular building block called a “molecube” — a mechanized cube filled with gears, magnets and electronics. Each molecube has an identical set of instructions in its microcontroller, which controls electromagnets on the cube’s surface. The molecubes use the electromagnets to link themselves together. The robots are built entirely from the molecube subsystems. Right now, the robots are only capable of replicating themselves, but the team hopes the same principles can be applied in more complex robots that perform useful tasks. (Information Week, May 16)

This should be very good news for the Pentagon, which is seeking to develop robot armies to police Iraq (NYT, Feb. 18), although it is admittedly very, very bad news for the Iraqis. (See also WW4 REPORT #s 43 and 107)

Pentagon mad scientists and their Israeli counterparts have been very busy lately.