Posted by Robert Bradbury: Brian Wang writes “The first scalable robot to have built an exact copy of itself could herald a fundamental rethink of how robots may be used to explore other planets. Hod Lipson and colleagues at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, built their self-replicating device using small mechanical building blocks that can swivel, and also attach themselves to one another using electromagnets.”
“Each 10 centimetre cube contains a microprocessor, and they are all equipped with an identical set of instructions that tell the block how to connect and swivel, depending on the way it is linked to other blocks. The instructions are designed to make the blocks work together to self-replicate.
The team has also come up with a new way of thinking about self-replication that could speed up future work. In the past, self-replication has been thought of as a property that a system either has or does not have. But Lipson and his team suggest that it is more useful to allow for intermediate levels of self-replication. Using this approach, they have developed a mathematical measure of self-replication that depends on the amount of information being copied. “For the first time, we can actually measure self-replication and so understand how to improve it,” Lipson says.”
Ed. Note: The paper comes out in Nature on May 12th, 2005. We will publish links as they become available.