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Can this new robot really bear offspring?

Researchers have created a mother robot that can build its own baby bots and pass on the desirable traits to the next generation.

On the origin of (robot) species

A new mother robot can build her own robot children, and evaluate their performance in order to improve the designs of the next generation.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created the new robot that was able to build and test generations of ten robots in five different experiments, the university reported on Wednesday.

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The mother robot built children constructed of between one and five plastic cubes with a small motor inside, without any human intervention.

The results of these experiments were published in the open-access journal PLOS One in June. The experiments showed that the mother robot was able to test its children's performance and reproduce desirable traits in subsequent generations.

The baby robots are 2.3 inches 3D-printed blue boxes that the mother robot glued together, Mashable reported.

Researchers describe the way the mother builds its "babies," or in other words how she imprints on each baby, as the "genome" part of the creation process.

The mother robot picked the fittest "child" based on how far the baby robot could travel in a given amount of time. The most successful ones would remain unchanged while the less successful robots would go through mutation and crossover in the next generation.

Researchers describe the mother robot’s cherry picking process as a “natural selection.”

"Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on," explained Fumiya Iida of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, in the campus release. "That's essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species."

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As a result of "natural selection," the researchers found that the baby robots’ performance improved over time. The latest generation of baby robots were able to perform a set task twice as quickly as the first generation.

Dr. Iida whose research looks at how robotics can be improved by taking inspiration from nature, said the recent success is the beginning of a long process. “It’s still a long way to go before we’ll have robots that look, act and think like us,” said 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.”


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