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Cornell Plays Role In Rise Of The Robots

Researchers draw on biological principles to enable robots to repair themselves and assemble 'helpers'
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 in space and other remote environments, such as inside a "hot" nuclear reactor after a spill. "Our self-replicating robots perform very simple tasks compared with intricacies in biological reproduction," says engineer Hod Lipson, a Cornell assistant professor. "But we think they demonstrate that mechanical self-reproduction is possible and not unique to biology." Self-replication is sometimes seen as the Holy Grail of robotics.

Self-replicating "molecube" bots perform simple tasks.

Self-replicating "molecube" bots perform simple tasks.Self-replicating "molecube" bots perform simple tasks.
The goal is to draw upon biological principles to enable robots to repair themselves as well as assemble "helpers." To test their ideas, Lipson's team created 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.

Next, the researchers want to combine their real-world robot with previous simulation results in which robots adapted to changing environmental conditions and came up with their own strategies for self-replication. They also are aiming to downsize the robots, which today are about 3 inches cubed.