New ‘mother’ robot can design, build, test and improve its own ‘children’

A “mother” robot which can build its own “children,” test which ones do best then modify their design, has been developed by scientists at Cambridge University.

In a video released by the university, the robot was shown building its own “cube babies” before watching as they take their first steps.

After monitoring the progress of its offspring, the mother-bot then selects which have performed the best and refines their design in the same way that evolution works in nature.

It is the first time that a process of natural selection has been built into a machine and marks an important step in the quest for artificial intelligence.

The robot has been programmed to build a cube-bot with a small motor inside which is capable of movement then refine the design based on observations of how efficiently it moves. In five experiments the mother-bot was allowed to continue building her children until 10 generations had been created, each time using the “fittest” bot to inform the design of the next child.

Cambridge University

Researchers found that preferential traits were passed down through generations so that the last cube-bots performed their task twice as quickly as the first individuals.

“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said Dr Fumiya Iida of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who worked in collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich. “That’s what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species.”

The robot children were designed from five rules which governed its shape, construction and motor commands. Each child, which took the robot about 10 minutes to design, build and test, was assessed on how far it travelled in a given amount of time.

Over time design variations emerged and performance improved, not just through fine-tuning, but because the mother-bot invented new shapes and movement patterns, including designs which a human could not have built.

“It’s a long way to go before we’ll have robots that look, act and think like us,” said Dr Iida. “But what we do have are a lot of enabling technologies that will help us import some aspects of biology to the engineering world.”

The research was published in the journal PLOS One.

The Daily Telegraph

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