The Navy has announced research in an area that may have some people thinking about the Terminator movies once again and images of armies of self replicating robots running through their heads. The new system will utilize a coordinated swarm of microscopic robots that can assemble themselves into larger things, and possibly even be used to create more copies of themselves. If the system were to be successfully developed, it could change everything we know about robotics. And if we take into consideration other fields being actively developed, the idea may be more troubling than it looks on paper at first.
A robot that works automatically to swarm an area and then assemble into a pattern that could function like an independent robot could be fairly effective at setting up mobile bases, bridges, field hospitals, and in some cases mobile prisons. But in order to make a system that powerful, you’ll need cheap and easy to build robots – and with robots that can work together to build things anyway, what are the chances of them building themselves into a miniature robotics factory? In fact, this would be the only way the system would be able to become widespread.
The Department of Defense proposed that the machines would use a procedure known as “desktop manufacturing” to replicate itself. The open source system known as Reprap already has a corner on the self replicating robotics market, but currently Reprap is a stationary system that must be picked up to move around. And these systems are complicated as well, often breaking down if the machine’s extruder is poorly calibrated.
But where open source research drops off big companies like DARPA are picking up the slack. Offering companies a chance to start creating self replicating robots of war, the new system would allow for a vast number of robots working together to function and build installations out in the field that would normally take a huge infrastructure.
How will the robots be powered? Will the system be used to actually fight troops on the ground? What else will we find when these robots are deployed? We don’t know the answers to these questions because the proposal was just recently created. We don’t even know what the devices will look like as the little machines have not even been created yet. Let’s just hope when we look at the tiny devices we see a future of innovations and not our own deaths glinting in their beady little robotic eyes.
Robots have been created in the past that can assemble into larger robots when put together – as with Japan’s incredible self assembling chair. Of course this was an experiment in design more than an actual proposal the likes of which the Department of Defense would be looking for. But it does provide a bit of insight into what the future may hold.