Mass. Institute of Technology has demonstrated a self-producing, self-replicating robot can both build more robots and structures in a way that could be feasible on a large scale.
The bots consist of two arms and control modules that interact with 12-sided polygons.
It would be easy to view this self-replicating system as either groundbreaking or terrifying depending on your disposition, but the work is just beginning. However the latest study and demonstration have made important strides towards working out how the robots will organize themselves and decide when to build more, when to build them smaller or larger, and how to get them to construct something like a building or a wall without them crashing into each other.
The little subunits which these robots and their construction capacity would rely on are called “voxels,” a nicer shorthand to the technical term “dodecahedron”.
The project is centered at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) and this new work is reported in the journal Nature Communications Engineering in a paper by CBA doctoral student Amira Abdel-Rahman, Professor and CBA Director Neil Gershenfeld.
While earlier voxels were purely mechanical structural pieces, the team has now developed complex voxels that carry both power and data from one unit to the next. In this way each robot can make themselves, their friends, or the structure they’re working on, all larger or smaller without ever needing to stop work.
They pointed out to MIT press that there have been thousands of papers on robotic mapping—developing ways for robots to perceive and negotiate different environments, for example like the surface of Mars.
“But the step after that, of the robot having to make the decision to build another robot or a different kind of robot—that’s new. There’s really nothing prior on that,” said Greschenfeld. WaL
PICTURED ABOVE: The MIT swarm bot atop a collection of the 12-sided polygons. PC: MIT, released.