Heads up, carbon-based life forms: Researchers in Europe have developed a robot that can make other robots.
What's more, the robotic system assembles smaller systems that improve with each generation.
It may seem like a misguided thing for us to do, as a species, but the technology involved is pretty cool. The robot designed by the researchers can actually learn on its own, with no input from humans, and create better robots by correcting its own mistakes.
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The system in question - which researchers disturbingly refer to as the "mother robot" - consists of an articulated arm and grasping mechanism. It's designed to put together various plastic cubes, each of which has a motor inside. When the motors are activated, the baby robots move around with varying efficiency, depending on configuration.
Using on-board sensors, the mother robot assesses the success of each baby robot's locomotive technique. Mom then puts together the next generation of baby ‘bots with an eye to improved speed and mobility.
Terrifying, isn't it? Actually, the purpose of the study isn't to create self-replicating robots, but rather to develop automated systems that can learn, improve and adapt to new situations.
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The research team -- based out of Cambridge University in London and ETH University in Zurich -- hopes that the new robotic technology will have practical applications in areas like manufacturing and agriculture.
"You can imagine cars being built in factories and the robot looking for defects in the car and fixing them by itself," researcher Andre Rosendo told the BBC. "And robots used in agriculture could try out slightly different ways of harvesting crops to see if they can improve yield."
These are hopeful scenarios for robots that can learn, evolve and procreate. We shall remain optimistic.