Robots have begun to reproduce themselves following the biological principles of evolution and genetic inheritance.
Darwin’s precepts of evolution have been applied for decades by computer scientists.
The discipline, which emerged in the second half of the Twentieth century, was defined in the 1990s as evolutionary computation. Its aim has been to combine the principles of Charles Darwin and the genetic discoveries by Gregor Mendel for solving problems.
This branch of artificial intelligence is applied from the creation of evolutionary algorithms, which have been used for years in modeling situations by means of computers.
However, the technological advances of the past decade -significantly higher than those achieved by computing the 20 previous years- have enabled the dawning of a new field of study, in which evolutionary algorithms, and not run only within machines, but directly affect the hardware. In other words, robots become more autonomous and "adapt" to the environment.
Proposals that already exist in this regard are interesting although this is a field not yet widely explored.
The Robot Child
Can robots voluntarily reproduce? The answer to this question has been found by researchers at the Vrije University in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
As the Professor of Artificial Intelligence at this university Gusz Eiben has explained in a video, they have two lines of research for robotics evolution. One is about the «mind» of the machines, and it’s aimed to make robots more intelligent using of evolutionary processes in the development of the robots.
«We apply progressive techniques to the neuronal networks that make up the minds of our robots and influence their behavior, » says the doctorate student Jacqueline Heinerman in the same video, posted on the YouTube channel of the Dutch University.
The other line of research is devoted to the creation of modular robots built with cubic pieces. Eiben explains that these machines don’t have a humanoid look, and the majority of their parts are obtained with 3D printers to be assembled later.
Thus, the team of Eiben conducted an experiment in which robots could «reproduce. » The experience was called Baby Robot Project. For the test, two machines were built with 3D printed plastic buckets in blue and green colors respectively.
According to Heinerman, these robots learned by functions that were put into shape. « They will be more likely to reproduce in the same way that they have more suitable conditions, and thus they will be "better " over time", » he said.
For making that their neural networks could add knowledge, robots were stimulated by photo-tact, a technique of reacting to the stimulus of a red light. Then, machines moved toward the light, and when they got to that point, they made a report.
Milan Jelisacvic, another student, noted that robots sent information on their genetic coupling to a computer via Wi-Fi. This computer was responsible for modeling the genome of the new model and the result was the impression of the components.
After several tests, the first baby robot was born last February 19. The «parents» of this robot exchanges genetic information —understood this as the basis code for their functions—, and they decided to have a child. The result was a new robot with green, blue and white cubes. The latter were the «new genetic material. »
What does this mean ?, Eiben asks in the video, to answer immediately: «We tested the concept of evolution of robots through hardware, which transcends the barrier of computer modeling so far made only through software. »
«For science this symbolizes the artificial evolution that is capable of getting away from computers and into the real world, » he added.
«It will sound funny, the Assistant Professor Evert Haasdijk jokes; but when one of our robots is born, it inherits the genome of their parents, as happens in nature. »
The experiment carried out at Vrije University is singular; but not unique. A group of scientists from the Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom, developed a prototype capable of generating their own children and make them to evolve with better features.
In this case they built a «mother» robot similar to the arm assembler in a car factory, which created their children when joining prefabricated parts in cubic form, some of these equipped with small engines.
Robots resulting from the experiment have mechanisms of locomotion. Their creators noted that the «mother» also evaluates them based on their movement speed and preserves those which are the faster. This «genetic information» is included by the mother’s robot in the design of new prototypes that are more functional and stable.
Although this seems to be a brutal process, natural selection is in full swing. This is the opinion by research leader Fumiya Lida, who explains in a statement posted on the website of the University of Cambridge, that natural selection is basically «reproduction and evaluation. » My robot, Lida said, shows improvements and diversification of its kind in real time.
In fact, the process worked. After several generations, the new robots were faster than their ancestors.
Another interesting study developed with robots took place at Vassar College, New York, United States.
There, the scientists created machines that resemble ancient sea creatures that are now extinct, which they called Tadros. The intention was to check its strengths during the travel through water. For this, the researchers simulated genetic mixing among those who were the faster and they created new prototypes. After ten generations, the Tadros evolved to have more rigid tails and increased travel speed in water.
All these experiments indicate that man is determined to turn machineries into autonomous and adaptable beings, aimed at providing services and facilities. It will not take much time to make this happen.
Let us look back to Japan, where experiences with new technologies, especially robots are part of the everyday life.
The Sasebo theme park, in Nagasaki, opened the Henn-na Hotel (Evolved Hotel) a year ago. The exhibition, under the slogan Committed to evolution, includes robots among its staff.
There are ten machines created by the University of Osaka to resemble a youngster, able to greet guests in four languages, carry luggage, clean rooms and attend the reception.
The hotel itself is looking to the future. As indicated by its web site, the air conditioning system adapts to the body temperature of customers. If it is very cold changes to not lose body temperature and if, on the contrary, the temperature is warm, the system is activated to reduce it.
Everything is controlled by computer equipment in the Henn-na Hotel. The lights, for example, turn on and off alone when they detect people in the rooms. The doors do not need keys and work with facial recognition technology.
This hotel is just an example of what can be achieved with the development of robotics, a discipline which now also wants to evolve so that the machines take care of their own multiplication.
Translated by ESTI