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Robotics Science

Open Source Self-Replicating Robot 194

Posted by Zonk
from the what's-not-to-like? dept.
Josilot writes "CNN.Com is running an article about a new self-replicating robot named RepRap. From the article: 'A revolutionary machine that can copy itself and manufacture everyday objects quickly and cheaply could transform industry in the developing world, according to its creator.' One part of the article that I think many slashdot readers will find interesting is near the bottom: 'To encourage that development, Bowyer plans to make the design of the RepRap available online and free to use, in the same way as open source software such as the Linux operating system or Mozilla's Firefox browser.' Is robotics the next big field for open source?"
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Open Source Self-Replicating Robot

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  • I want a box in my kitchen that makes synth-protein from scratch!!
  • RTFA (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rii (777315) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @04:51PM (#12725245)
    One part of the article that I think many slashdot readers will find interesting is near the bottom:
    New here, aren't you?
  • by mazevedo (117804) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @04:51PM (#12725247)
    Have we contacted the Asgard? Smells like trouble to me!
    • The replicators started out just as a toy/friend for a lonely android, imagine how hardcore replicators that are meant to replicate will be.
    • Boy, even when you think you have an original idea for a post, someone beats you to it on Slashdot. C'mon people: stop hitting Refresh waiting for new stories to appear! *sigh*

      Anyway, for those geeks among us who have missed out on the great Sci-Fi show that is Stargate SG-1, and don't know what the Replicators are, check out this link: http://www.gateworld.net/omnipedia/races/links/rep licators.shtml [gateworld.net].

    • I've been working my way through the stargate series for a while now and I have a theory on the replicators.

      They appear to be a technology eradication system perhaps invented by some highly advanced space luddites. Please ignore any apparent contradictions in the preceding sentence.

      Consider this; they 'feed' on technology, taking whatever tech they find and turning it into more replicator blocks.

      The only time they come into conflict with organic beings is when the organics try to protect their technology

    • Fortunatly this device is not what it claims to be. Tell me how a 3d printer makes batteries. The replicators from SG1 don't appear to address this either. They need power... where does it come from?

      The clever thing about the replicators from SG1 is that they had small, apparently identical puzzle pieces that apparently could all have the same functionality, depending on where they were used.
  • Yes, a self-replicating robot would be most excellent - a robot that could duplicate itself without human intervention.

    But then again, how long would it take for each robot to manufacture another copy, versus having a modular assembly line? I don't see self-replicating robots breaking into major industrial use.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      exponential growth:
      Generation 1 = 1 Robot
      Generation 2 = 2 Robots
      Generation 3 = 4 Robots
      Generation 4 = 8 Robots
      Generation 101 = 1267650600228229401496703205376 robots
      • by Artifakt (700173) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:50PM (#12725546)
        Generation 33 = One for everybody on Earth, plus about 10% overage. Let's stop there and start making stuff with them.
        In fact, what will probably happen is everyone who gets one going will make a copy or two (on the average) for people near and dear (for average values of dear). Then they will turn them to making other stuff. That means it will spread much more slowly than exponential growth. A slower growth rate is good from a control standpoint, bad if you are waiting for them to spread to your area and lack the skills to jump-start the process.
        What's neat is having someone make their own replicator simultaniously teaches them how to use their copy for making other stuff, unlike sex.
    • right

      And how about the usability? I mean what about robots that can replicate themselves in a form what can be then useful?

      Or will we just have self replicating robots whos only target/function is to replicate themselves rule the world, with an economical crash at the end where there isn't anything else possible to produce except for selfreproducing robots?
    • But then again, how long would it take for each robot to manufacture another copy, versus having a modular assembly line? I don't see self-replicating robots breaking into major industrial use.

      Then I would say that you haven't thought carefully about the math involved. For example, say you have one assembly line that can produce 1000 robots (or whatever your product is) an hour, versus a robot that can produce a copy of itself in 24 hours. This is a chart of the robots produced by each method:
      Time (ho
      • In the long run, unless they start tearing up the countryside for raw materials, they will actually hit about the same limit that the assembly line has.

        Why?

        Bringing in the raw materials, getting the assembled products out, and the growth of the availble energy supply all follow roughly linear curves.

        This really shows a basic lack of knowledge in logistics.

        For those CS people out there, go back to parallel computing theory. If the parallel code sections are infinitely fast, you still have the length of
    • This would be very useful in space industries. If a robot could make itself and a number of very similar models that could each also make a different component of some larger structure (a refinery perhaps?), this would be an efficient way to mine asteroids or other similar objects.
  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @04:51PM (#12725250) Journal
    I've got a better open source self-replicating robot: Herpes virus.

    BTM
  • "Layers formed together by lasers or glue" just sounds "cheap" to me.
    Plus you would have to buy all the different materials first... such "home manufacturing" just isn't economically feasible until you have nano-bots doing it, or it's for one specialized item like batteries that everyone needs.
    • Re:please.. (Score:3, Informative)

      It may sound cheap to you. But consider this:
      A laser need not necessarily put out much power to fuse even metal, if the metal powder is already close to melting point to begin with. An existing prototyping system uses this approach to create customized metal objects.

      BTM
  • hummm (Score:2, Funny)

    by Amouth (879122)
    new toys .. more new toys .. wait that isn't a toy, why are they eating my house.. humm i don't think they like me
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...that the first step in my quest for world domination has been publicized on /.

    Bwah-hahahah!!!

  • by SleepyHappyDoc (813919) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @04:54PM (#12725271)
    If it wasn't, would it's own existence violate the DMCA?
    • or if one became a prostitute and started to sell itself for money and not release the vidios , it may violate its own OS license
    • Okay, I have to question Slashdot Reader Sanity when I see this one. Lemme answer your question.

      NO.

      The DMCA protects copyrighted works; if anything this work is an invention and therefore subject to Patent law, but not copyright.
      • Okay, I have to question Slashdot Reader Sanity when I see this one. Lemme answer your question.
        NO.
        The DMCA protects copyrighted works; if anything this work is an invention and therefore subject to Patent law, but not copyright.

        Two comments:

        1) Don't you think that this invention contains software, which is covered by copyright law?

        2) I thought that the OP was supposed to be funny. At least, it made me laugh.

    • Given that, perhaps, some day robots will share very close and very trusted relationships with human; e.g., give "freedom" of movement in their homes, offices, cars, etc. and perhaps given some spending authority, passwords, and other means to access resources on behave of the home/office they toil in... having their source and design as open source is a fairly critical to insure (on the macro level) that particular classes of robots don't contain lurking evil.

      However, IMHO, it will take some type of trust
  • We've had them for years.
  • Movie (Score:2, Informative)

    by PxM (855264)
    Instead of posting the obvious joke about dupes, here's a link to the movie [cornell.edu] form the previous story. (Coral link [nyud.net])
    • This story is not a dupe of the story to which you refer, but a dupe of another story to which I am too lazy to find a link.
    • At least this (in the video) robot actually replicates itself based on building blocks. The RepRap isn't in the working stages yet. Now that I found the right article, I'll just replicate my comment from the previous article:

      While the idea of a 3D printer cheap enough for personal use /is/ going to revolutionize the world by making certain real items as cheap as software, the part about it being a von Neumann machine is overrated. The article just mentions it in passing and there is no evidence that he's
      • You would run out of space very quickly.


        Just tell your universal constructor to create a universal destructor that eats the waste and excretes raw materials. Problem solved!


        (warning: keep hands and feet away from the destructor)

  • Yes! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by camzmac (889291)
    Yes, of course robotics is the next big field for open source! The FOSS model works pretty damn well, it would be (in some people's opinions) selfish not to apply it to other aspscts of technology and life in general.

    North American natives did something similar to open source by sharing their ideas, methods, and beliefs with the Europeans that came to North America, and the Europeans gave them the advantage of metal pots and pans. Basic open source right there. Now we have North American society, home to t
  • We covered a story from Cornell [slashdot.org] on self-replicating robots before. I guess it wasn't opensource.
    • In addition to the work at Cornell, there was also a Slashdot blurb [slashdot.org] I submitted a few months ago on RepRap. Perhaps we have self-replicating stories? :)

      In all seriousness though, it looks like some progress has been made since then, so it's nice to see another article on this.
  • Vague Article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by c41rn (880778) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:03PM (#12725330)
    The article is frustratingly vague. It sounds to me like the robot doesn't replicate itself but rather that Dr. Adrian Bowyer has created some type of system for replicating robot chasis. The picture clearly shows a plastic 'bot with attached motors, wiring, batteries, etc. From the information that the article gives, it seems like a human is still needed for the final construction. I wouldn't consider this self replicating because it is not autonomous.
    • There's more detail here [cabalamat.org] or here [reprap.org].
    • it seems like a human is still needed for the final construction. I wouldn't consider this self replicating because it is not autonomous.

      You're right, a human is needed and it's not autonomous in the strict sense. But it's not really an exercise in truly autonomous robotics, it's an exercise in helping the developing world. Another approach would be to set up machine shops in villages, and train the villagers, and transfer ownership to the villages when they had built all the tools for two more machine sh

    • There is no point in nit-picking. Computer viruses are commonly called self-replicating, even though they can't do that without an operating system and hardware to run on.

      A robot that can do 90% of the job of self-replicating (with the remaining 10% done using cheap unskilled labour and cheap off-the-shelf parts) can be justifiably called "self-replicating" because of the economic implications.

      Also, expect the technology to drastically improve in a few years. If you insist on dissing this robot because it
  • Self-replicating? (Score:5, Informative)

    by nacturation (646836) <<nacturation> <at> <gmail.com>> on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:05PM (#12725337) Journal
    We've had 3D printers for quite a while now which basically form shapes by laying down a thin layer of sand-like or metallic powder, followed by a thin layer of glue, etc. You then use compressed air to blow away the sand layers which don't have glue and voila... a 3D shape and quite sturdy. You can make some parts which are impossible using other methods.

    However, I missed the part in the press release, er... story where they are self-assembling. Sure, you can have a machine feed in a design and print something out, but what about assembly? Yes it can print circuits, but does this thing add motors, insert batteries, or plug its power into the wall? And will it feed the newly created copy with the source of materials, etc. it needs to make another copy? Let me know when we get a machine which can create an copy of itself and, without any human intervention, that just-created copy makes another copy.
  • Are you concerned by the prospect of self-replicating machines?
    I for one welcome out self-replicating robot overlords.
  • Arizona - A new open source warbot being tested by the Army was hijacked this morning by a 12 year-old. The perpetrator allegedly downloaded the plans for the robot at sourceforge, and created his own controller. Details at 11.
  • Weak (Score:4, Informative)

    by Illserve (56215) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:16PM (#12725392)
    It's apparently a robot that can make circuit boards, and that's it. There are about 50 million steps involved in making itself, this can do one of them.

    Thx media hype, call me when something interesting happens.
    • by Speare (84249)
      It's a robot that can make a wide variety of 2D and 3D parts, including circuit boards. Previously, 3D printers have not had much success at circuit boards because of the obvious need for two different materials (insulating substrate and conductive paths). This one can make any of the parts necessary to make a second robot, which you then assemble and sell/give to someone else.
    • Interesting technology, but a bit overhyped in this case. The photo labelled "self-replicating robot" shows a robot that can't replicate itself. On the reprap.org website they define "self-replicating" as the merely ability to make parts for other machines: ...a machine that is capable of building three-dimensional objects from both an electrically insulating material and a conductor, like our robot in the picture. After the components have been made, it is quite acceptable for a person to assemble the ma
  • by urbieta (212354) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:16PM (#12725393) Homepage Journal
    http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org]

    the blog is cool too

    http://reprap.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    This would make a better type of bot wars, building their weapons with available materials and blasting each other with them heh
  • World Population (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zp (68133)
    With the billions of inhabitants this planet has, are we concerned with robot workers?
  • I can do that.. /Human
  • iVampire (Score:3, Funny)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @05:19PM (#12725409) Homepage Journal
    At least they aren't powered by human blood.
  • consume resources and make copies of themselves? What good is that?

    Wait, that's what we do...

    OK. Forget I said that.

  • Steve B of Microsoft described Linux as a Communist Cancer... if they're selling these things to "the Developing World" (from TFA) e.g. China I think he might actually have a point...
  • will be weapons. Think of the results. Gangs working together to create a better gun. Countries working to build better bombs. A whole new realm of coperation will be fostered. Errrr... Perhaps not. On a more serious note. Here is another open source robot. It's nice knowing that it isn't the only one. http://www.symbio.jst.go.jp/PINO/ [jst.go.jp]
  • Free plans for self-replicating robots?!?! I definitely know a few people who I would not trust with their own robot army and I don't think I want to make it any easier for them to get one!
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @06:17PM (#12725702) Journal
    It's about as self-replicating as a machine that connects to the web via its ethernet port, places an order for parts here [emachineshop.com], waits until the UPS web site says the parts have arrived and then emails its owner to tell it to assemble the parts sitting in the box on the front doormat.
  • Forget *gate, PKD had tons of short stories involving self-replicating robots. IMHO scarier than the anti-Asgard kind.
  • by croddy (659025)
    ctrl+f sarah connor not found
  • Price could drop to several hundred dollers as they replicate...

    Assuming binary replication (each machine makes two and the owner gives them to their buddies) 10 generations gives us more than enough machines for everyone on earth... The cost of making one should be the cost of materials, plus asking your buddy with the replicator to please make one for you right?

    So, extrapolating, the cost of materials to produce one replicator is on the order of several hundred dollars. I really don't see how these are
  • by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @07:04PM (#12725954) Homepage
    Man, I can't wait to download the latest PowerMac G7 from Kazaa, 2 days before Apple releases it...
  • I would love to see a (non-trivial) Lego Mindstorms robot that, given a bucket of legos, could build a copy of itself.

    That'd be the best thing ever.
  • This is just stupid. If you bother to read the article, and look at the website, you will see that this is complete BS. First, this robot exists only as an idea. Second, it's a pretty stupid idea.

    This is an obvious ploy to get research funding from someone for a fairly pointless project. I've seen lots of these; the best indicator is the talk-to-results ratio. This project has lots of the former, and none of the latter. The GPL is just thrown around because it is a buzzword.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday June 04, 2005 @08:20PM (#12726303) Homepage
    This work is so bad it's embarassing.

    First, it's been on Slashdot before. [slashdot.org]

    Second, the "self replication", as the paper puts it, consists of making a baseplate in an fused-deposition modelling machine and depositing some metal on it, to make a very low density circuit board. That's all. This is an expensive way to make a crappy single-sided PC board. It's a giant step backwards from the photoetching processes used now to make both PCs and ICs. Not only is it nowhere near "self replication", it's not even a step in that direction.

    Finally, the web site has the tag line "Wealth without money...", which sounds like something from a stock scam.

    Actually, the cutting edge work in this area is not fake "self-replication", but using deposition-type fabricators to make 3D objects with complicated internal structure [stanford.edu], including combinations of flexible and rigid materials and moving parts.

    There's a fundamental misunderstanding about manufacturing that pervades enthusiasts for computer-controlled one-off manufacturing. It's that most manufactured goods are made by some process that involves a "master" or "mould" or "die", and that those processes are incredibly cheap. There are about a hundred such processes in common use, from injection moulding to photolithography. And they work quite well. That's what you're competing with. Making single parts in bulk just isn't that expensive.

    • Wow. You just said all I wanted to say. I still cannot fathom why the hell they decided to make circuit boards that way, and this crap requires a $50k machine. I mean, making a socket for a DIP package is at the limits of their machine, and the DIP package is already in the process of getting phased out because it is so large!

      Also, have you seen the .doc file with the description of the circuit on that robot? It's a perfect example of why mechanical engineers should not try electrical engineering. The
    • i agree that the "self-replication" stuff is b.s.

      on the other hand, as someone who photo-etches my own circuit boards and finds the process quite archaic and annoying, it would be really excellent to have something that would squirt out copper/alloy traces and drill the holes for me. like a little ink-jet printer for pcb's.

      There's a fundamental misunderstanding about manufacturing that pervades enthusiasts for computer-controlled one-off manufacturing. It's that most manufactured goods are made by some p
  • weak? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stiefvater (101844)
    yes, it's a hodge-podge, make-shift, kludgey mess.

    but make no mistake. no matter how imperfect, hobbled, or inelegant - the first von Neumann machine will start an exponential avalanche.

    welcome the singularity.

    K.

  • Well, if his goal is to free us of corporate rule by giving us a machine that can replicate itself, and open sourcing everything, that is VERY awesome.

    However, if he wants to make money off of this...I gotta say, what an idiot. The software is free and you can just get a copy of the hardware from a friend.

  • The bot in the picture looks smaller than one of my model cars. I don't see it becoming very powerful anytime, soon. Yes, "size doesn't matter", but does matter in this case because the bigger the bot, the bigger bot (and other devices) it can build.

    I certainly hope they've figured this one out, but if not, I'll repeat it here: Robots do not have to carry their "brains" on board. Just have them "download" their instructions from one central hub, which can then be easily re-programmed/de-bugged without rec

  • A few more innovative tweaks here and there coupled with increased population will render the human workforce responsible virtually only for service and human interaction tasks, while lifeless automotons assume repetitive physical functions. The global job market will shrink, and governments will find it more necessary to provide for the jobless. I wonder how we'll adjust... or if I'm completely off base here.
  • From what I've seen, there are already a lot of open source robotics projects (although probably more on the software end than detailed schematics and such). I would say that open source is already in the robotics field in a big way.
  • Missing the point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tmortn (630092) on Sunday June 05, 2005 @01:54AM (#12727543) Homepage
    Everyone pointing out that mass production is far more efficent and that a factory of these could never compete.

    Thats not the point. These things are not designed to compete at that level. A one step printing process like this will never compete with mass production methods for speed. What it trumps that process in is versitility. How much does a prodection line for a screw cost ? How much does it cost to create a new screw design to implement ? How much to switch between certain templates ? How many must be made and sold to make the process profitable.

    In short mass production relies on economies of scale. Makes lots of goods far cheaper than they would be otherwise but at the same time it sort of forces us all into a one size fits all world where the only things that get made are those with a large enough mass demand to support the enourmous intial investment in establishing such a process. Cheap is a very relative term when speaking of mass production. See if you think any of the numbers involved in setting up a first run of an item are 'cheap'. This creates a staggering bar to market entry in many fields.

    What they are not good at is adapting to needs and they require enourmous amounts of stock to be made and shipped before demand is established. Distributed production like this would do a great deal to elimnate overstock. It could potentially lower the bar to market entry in any number of areas. For example lets say manufacturing shifted from highly specific highly concentrated mass production to highly disperesed general construction. In otherwords demands to keep such a process running would run the gamut of production needs rather than rely upon one specific need. In other words more smaller factories capable of producing A-Z instead of just differnt sizes of A.

    For example If someone could create a rare auto parts fabricator that worked cheaper than machine shop rates for custom replication they would make a fortune. Demand is there for such a thing but no one items demand is large enough in most cases to permit someone to make money setting up a mass production line for it.

    Also imagine the new frontiers opened up to product hackers if they could alter the design specs acording to their whims rather than be stuck with what is profitable for a mass production run.
  • The here is the googled website: http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org] I have always thought replicating machines would be cool (it's possible as can be seen from the "two-legged existence theorem"). Using a 3D printer sounds like the way to go about this today. However, I would think that whatever it is you are crafting with a machine has to necessarily be at a lower mechanical tolerance to the machine itself, so over several generations, the precision falls catastrophically. Some form of recovery or repair is needed (as
  • It's been interesting watching all the different comments. Some clearly don't "get it". This is a device to give individuals complex manufacturing capabilities, and also their own recycling capabilities. It is not designed for mass production, but may well replace some of it.

    As for what it can make, the answer at the moment is a hollow cylinder of EVA or Polymorph. That robot was printed on a Stratasys FDM machine as a proof of concept for the techniques involved.

    What the beta release will do is to print

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