Posted by: robotnews | March 31, 2007

Self Replicating Robots

Cornell University researchers have created a machine that can build copies of it. Though the robots do not perform any useful function yet, they are proof of the concept. This principle could be extended to self repairing which would be a great milestone and work wonders in the Space industry and other hazardous working environments.
Self-replicating machines have been the subject of theoretical discussion since the early days of computing and robotics, but only two physical devices that can replicate have been reported. One uses Lego parts assembled in a two-dimensional pattern by moving along tracks; another uses an arrangement of wooden tiles that tumble into a new arrangement when given a shove.

The robots are made up of a series 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, and a complete robot consists of several cubes linked together. Each cube is divided in half along a long diagonal, which allows a robot composed of many cubes to bend, reconfigure and manipulate other cubes. For example, a tower of cubes can bend itself over at a right angle to pick up another cube.
To begin replication, the stack of cubes bends over and sets its top cube on the table. Then it bends to one side or another to pick up a new cube and deposit it on top of the first. By repeating the process, one robot made up of a stack of cubes can create another just like itself. Since one robot cannot reach across another robot of the same height, the robot being built assists in completing its own construction.

Although these experimental robots work only in the limited laboratory environment, the idea of making self-replicating robots out of self-contained modules could be used to build working robots that could self-repair by replacing defective modules. For example, robots sent to explore Mars could carry a supply of spare modules to use for repairing or rebuilding as needed, allowing for more flexible, versatile and robust missions. Self-replication and repair also could be crucial for robots working in environments where a human with a screwdriver couldn’t survive.

Vignesh Viswanathan – U045971E



  1. I strongly believe that such kind of robots will be able to do much more than space repairs where humans will have problems in.

    I feel that such robots will have a great promising future if it can be reduced to a much smaller size. That would then be able to be utilised in much more areas such as military and networks.

    Pretty great stepping stone I must say.

  2. I must add that this novel idea has endless scope in many applications and might be the dawn of a new era in the field of robotics.

    Vignesh Viswanathan

  3. Seah Qiong Feng Sean

    Such self replicating robots could be very useful, especially in the nanoindustry, where there is a great interest in self-assembly. Robots can make smaller robots and the smaller robots make even smaller robots. That is the general trend that the researchers are trying to work to in this field. However, it seems like this is still very much at a rudimentary stage and more work is needed, but wonderful first step!

  4. This is quite an interesting article. If we can actually shrink these robots into nanometer dimensions then they are effectively as good as cells in our body. May be we can make an emulsion of these kinds of nanobots which will cab be sprayed on the machine that has to be repaired. They especially can be useful in fixing silicon chips instead of throwing the chips away.

    I wonder how the robot was detecting the parts near it? How did it know what was its shape so that it could create another one with similar shape? Have they been hardcoded?

    Pavan U045965E

  5. As you can see the robot hasn’t been developed with a vision system. So i believe it is right hard coded every time a particular shape has to be replicated depending on the shape it takes. A good point to be noted. Thank you Pavan. I guess vision system could be one of the future developments in this robot where the robot is able to identify and build shapes just by looking at objects.

    Vignesh Viswanathan

  6. It is a very interesting robot.

    Maybe in the future, the self replicating robot can have more shapes such that it can have a wide range of applications.

  7. It is a very interesting robot.

    Maybe in the future, the self replicating robot can have more shapes such that it can have a wide range of applications.

    Faint, forgot to leave my name previously.

    Xue Chao

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