Interesting Article

From: Brent Stucker (
Date: Thu Aug 31 2000 - 17:32:51 EEST

Attached below is an article I just read that uses RP (just a brief
reference to it) to create reproducible robots. Feel free to delete, if not

Dr. Brent Stucker
Assistant Professor
University of Rhode Island
Dept. of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
Gilbreth Hall, 2 East Alumni Ave.
Kingston, RI 02881
ph: (401)874-5187
fax: (401)874-5540

Reproducing Robots Created
Thursday, Aug. 31, 2000
SAN FRANCISCO In what they describe as a step toward the autonomy of
artificial life, researchers have created replicating robots.
And in another science fiction meets the real world feat, a second group has
announced teaching tiny robots to organize with ant-like precision.

"Most robotics research is about adding brains to animatronic puppets, which
is a lost cause," said Jordan Pollack, associate professor of computer
science and complex systems at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., lead
author of the study that will be published Thursday in the British journal
Nature and member of the first team to develop robots that design and
construct other robots without human help.

"In nature, the body and brain co-evolve together, like the chicken and the
egg. There never is one without the other," said Pollack, director of the
Dynamical and Evolutionary Machine Organization Laboratory, who first
started working on a project in body-brain co-evolution in 1992.

"This is a long awaited and necessary step towards the ultimate dream of
self-reproducing machines," said Rodney Brooks of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., who authored an accompanying
News and Views article.

"While we feel this is a neat advance in the science of evolutionary
robotics and artificial life, we think the real impact may be a new industry
in five to 10 years," Pollack told United Press International.

"If our robots can be designed and manufactured ... without human
engineering and labor costs to amortize through mass production, truly a
whole new realm of low-cost robotics becomes enabled."

Most immediate potential applications have a wide range, from "a collection
of 151 wacky toy robots as popular as Pokemon to automatic cleaning machines
specific to certain environments, like after a football game at a particular
stadium, to robots cheap enough to find and destroy landmines in different
parts of the world to fixed industrial assembly applications for short-term,
low-volume production," said co-researcher Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineer
at Brandeis.

"The key idea is that a dumb machine evolved to a single environment is
easier to construct than a machine which has to work in many environments or
a humanoid robot which has to be intelligent enough to do multiple tasks,"
Pollack said.

In an advance of a different scope, Laurent Keller and colleagues at the
University of Lausanne in Switzerland trained robots to be as organized as

"Robots could be used in environments that are too dangerous or too
inaccessible to humans," Keller told UPI. "It will probably take a few years
until we have such robots ready because we have some important challenges,
such as providing energy to the robots, to overcome first."

At Brandeis, Pollack and Lipson looked to nature to evolve their plan.

Their first experimental machines consisted of nothing more than a few basic
structural, mechanical and electrical components designed to select the most
mobile creations. These devices were then linked to a rapid prototyping
machine that constructs three-dimensional shapes from computer models.
Hundreds of generations later, they reached their aim: a machine that
automatically builds another machine, and the fittest one at that.

"It takes a few days for the software to construct bodies-with-brains that
best optimize the fitness function. Each run results in diverse locomotive
mechanics and control circuits, all created without human knowledge. For
example, one has a leg in the middle of its body to ratchet itself along the
floor, while another swims the breaststroke on land," the authors explained.

"During a 'solidification' process, points and lines inside the computer
simulation are automatically transformed into ball-joints and cylinders,
providing a geometric blueprint of a machine which can be automatically
constructed for about $250, and then recycled."

Though appearing as not much more than motorized plastic toys, the small
white robots could portend a big future, the scientists said.

"Robots have traditionally been designed to be able to operate
autonomously," the authors said. "Now that design and construction have also
been automated, self-reproducing machines that might, one day, merit the
term 'artificial life' are a step closer."

In the Swiss project, Keller and team programmed their tiny creations, which
they dubbed antbots, with the rules by which ants forage, including
instructions on when to leave the nest, how to keep out of each other's way,
how to search for sustenance and how to share food-rich finds with their
fellow ants.

Groups of the man-made antbots could maintain a higher average energy level,
getting more "food" from less effort, than individual robots, the
investigators found.

Ultimately, the scientists envision autonomous, organized, cooperative robot
communities operating in environments too dangerous or too distant for

"We can envision a robotic factory inside a tractor trailer, or on an
ocean-going platform, or a satellite, which is brought to the scene and
produces machines which are rated for their performance in the actual task
environment, leading to real-time on-site evolution," Pollack said.

The researchers hope their experiment will point to a solution to the
problem of exorbitant cost of design and construction, which has made robots
prohibitive outside of Hollywood and the military.

"If we eliminate the human engineers, we can do for disposable robots what
Bill Gates did for software releases: make them so affordable that everyone
can own 100," Pollack said.

The scientists next aim for machines with many more moving parts and more
complex task structures, robots that react to their environment.

"We are looking at environments with other robots in them playing survival
games," Lipson said. "And we are importing evolutionary, co-evolutionary and
symbiotic techniques from our other research projects."

At this point, the robots are "little more than toys, with the brains of a
bacterium," Pollack said. "We hope to achieve insect status in a couple of

Is there a danger of this technology one day getting out of hand?

"The theme of robots running amok as sorcerers and shapeshifters runs
through fantastic and paranoid literature," Pollack said, emphasizing that
his robots have achieved replicating, not self-replicating, status.

"The fears of AI/robots replicating out of control are not at all justified.
We are far from a collection of humanoid robots operating a machine shop
making more humanoids," Pollack said.

"The field of robotics is still $100 billion shy of, and centuries away
from, creating an all-purpose intelligent humanoid like Star Trek's
Commander Data. Companies today can build robots only for very specific
tasks like automatic teller machines. Few other situations can recover the
high development costs."

No matter how far the field may progress, to the scientists, robots will
always be just robots.

"They are simply tools leading to further prosperity of humanity, and only
those machines which form economic virtuous circles survive," Pollack said.
"They are not competitors or replacements for humans."

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