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14. Self-Replicating Robots

Hod LipsonHod Lipson, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and his research team created a machine that can reproduce itself. Although the machine’s function is only to self-replicate, it is a proof of concept. The basic principle could be extended to build robots that could replicate or repair themselves while working in hazardous environments or in space. The researchers created robots composed of modular cubes called molecubes, each containing identical machinery and the complete computer program for replication. The cubes have electromagnets on their faces that allow them to selectively attach to and detach from one another. A complete robot consists of several cubes linked together. Because each cube is divided in half along a diagonal, a robot composed of many cubes can bend, reconfigure, and manipulate other cubes. Theoretical discussions about self-replicating machines have been around since the early days of computing and robotics. However, only two previous physical devices that can self-replicate have been reported. One uses Lego parts assembled in a two-dimensional pattern by moving along tracks, and another uses an arrangement of wooden tiles that tumble into a new arrangement when given a shove.

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