Self-Replicating Robots —
Robots capable of building themselves — think the self-replicating
nanobots or Replicators in Stargate Atlantis — are here. Well, sort of.
Armed with an affordable 3D printer (a.k.a., extrusion robot), a talented
experimentalist can crank out the mechanical assembly for basic robot
platforms. Batteries, servos, and electronics are still a ways off, but the
basics are there. We’ve achieved the ability to crank out robots using local
resources, albeit not as originally envisioned.
When I bought my 3D printer, I thought that having one on my
desk would help me stay abreast of what’s happening in the field. Well,
I was wrong. True, I can get hands-on experience with different
rendering/extrusion/finishing programs and devices, but the field is
just exploding too rapidly for me to follow everything and get anything
In the medical arena, 3D printer robots are being used to create cranial
implants, replacements, temporary teeth, artificial limbs, and orthodontics.
Then, there’s the whole world of medical 3D scanning, where robots are
used to create scans for better fitting hearing aids, replacement teeth, and
models to preview the results of reconstructive surgery.
On the fun front, self-replication has had a boost from announcements
and demonstrations of affordable desktop 3D scanners. If you’re a wiz at
using a 3D authoring program, then you may not need a scanner. However,
let’s say a support on your robotics platform is cracked and needs to be
replaced. What could be easier than simply scanning the support, using a
touch-up tool to remove the crack in the digital image, and then sending the
file to your 3D printer.
Still don’t have a 3D printer on your desk? It’s becoming less of an
issue, thanks to increased availability of web-based 3D printing services. If
you’ve ever designed a printed circuit board and ordered the finished board
from one of the online services, then you’ll be at home having your 3D
printing outsourced. I’m waiting for my local Kinko’s to offer 3D printing
along with their 2D printing service.
At home, printing isn’t for everyone, but more activity in 3D printing
makes it better for everyone. An increase in the popularity of 3D printing
will attract software and hardware developers to the space. There will
eventually be an ‘app for that.’
Back to self-replicating robots, what can the current generation of
affordable robotic extruders do? Quite a bit. Search for “robot” on
www.thingiverse.com) — the 3D image repository — and
you’ll find 3D files to create everything from quadcopters, biped walkers,
and robot arms to multi-legged insectoid robots. Just add electronics,
batteries, and a few nuts and bolts, and after extruding a few spools of PLA
or ABS plastic, you’ll have an army of robots.
Not quite self-replicating, but in this scenario, a robot is semiautonomously replicating another robot. Sort of like Escher’s Drawing
Hands, where one hand is sketching the other. SV
Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ;
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ERVO FOR THE ROBOT INNOVATOR
6 SERVO 10.2013