Jun 1, 2016 @ 21:59 | VU Amsterdam | Netherlands |
Science fiction is becoming reality: Under the project, “Robot Baby” researchers at Vrije University (VU) Amsterdam demonstrated that robots can have children.
This breakthrough is a significant first step in the Industrial Evolution and can play an important role in, for instance, the colonization of Mars. During Campus Party in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht on May 26 2016 two of Eiben’s robots demonstrated robot mating and the first robot baby was unveiled.
This means that in addition to developing their brains by learning, robots can now develop their bodies through evolution. Because robot parents select suitable mating partners with certain desirable properties, successive generations can improve their physical form and behavior, adjusting these to their environment and the task they have to perform. This makes them suitable for locations where the circumstances are unknown in advance, such as mines in deep seas or other planets.
Eiben and a group of scientists from other universities have previously established a system architecture that consists of a ‘Birth Clinic’, a ‘Nursery’, and an ‘Arena’ where robots live, work, and reproduce. After a development period of a year and a half, Eiben and his team at the VU succeeded in implementing a complete life cycle.
They completed a proof-of-concept and created physical robots that have their own ‘DNA’ and can produce children via a 3D-printer. During reproduction the features of the parents are randomly recombined, including the software (the brain) as well as the hardware (the body). After ‘birth’ the newborn robot undergoes a learning process; if it passes muster it becomes an adult and can become a parent itself.
Autonomously operating robots
This breakthrough marks the beginning of a new era –the Industrial Evolution– where machines that autonomously operate and reproduce are no longer fiction. Eiben: “Evolution is a great designer. The Evolution of Things is an emerging new technology that exploits the power of selection and reproduction to breed robot designs that are hard to obtain by traditional approaches. Robots that evolve can adapt to their environment and cope with unforeseen situations. The bodies, brains, and behaviors are continually tested by the environment and the useful traits are amplified in future generations. This technology opens new perspectives for robotics, artificial intelligence, space research, and even biology.”
Project Robot Baby:
The Robot Baby Project (VU Amsterdam, 2015-2016) is a focused attempt to demonstrate that robots can have children. The scientific background is provided by a model of robotic reproduction and evolution, published the 2013 paper called: The Triangle of Life: Evolving Robots in Real-time and Real-space. The Triangle of Life framework describes the pivotal life cycle of self-reproducing robots. This life cycle does not run from birth to death, but from conception (being conceived) to conception (conceiving one or more children) and it is repeated over and over again, thus creating consecutive generations of robots. The result is an evolving population of robotic organisms, where the bodies as well as the brains can adapt to the given environment. The Triangle of Life is an abstract model, EvoSphere -discussed on the previous tab- is a tangible incarnation of it.
The robot baby project is a proof of concept. Its main objective is to implement all three constituents of the Triangle of Life in a simplified form and to connect the dots, that is, complete one full life cycle. It is to prove the feasibility of robots that can reproduce in hardware, in the real world, rather than in software simulation. With this demonstration researchers hope to initiate a healthy scientific discussion and inspire further research.
For the demonstration researchers have constructed two robots and let them go through the infancy stage and become adults. The skill they had to learn was locomotion and navigation to a specific spot, the `mating corner’ of the habitat. Once they met in the mating corner, they mated (virtually) and sent their DNA to the Birth Clinic. This consisted of a 3D printer and collection of `body parts’, such as CPUs, light sensors, servo motors. The parental genotypes were randomly recombined into a new piece of DNA and a new robot was printed and assembled according to this specification. This delivered the first robot baby and concluded the first robotic life cycle. The project achieved its objective. Researchers have gained much know-how and could identify important issues for further research and development.
- Source: VU Amsterdam
- Image-1: Robot baby with parents. Different color blocks show that the baby robot got combined DNA from both parents.