Jun 1, 2016 | By Alec

It’s probably not the first baby to be born out of an laboratory romance, but certainly the only one of its kind. In the Artificial Intelligence laboratory of the VU University in Amsterdam, two 3D printed robots recently courted each other and together produced a 3D printed robot baby exhibiting traits of both parents. This world’s first 3D printed robot baby has been developed by professor Guszti Eiben, who unveiled the robot baby to the crowds at the Campus Party in the Jaarbeurs Utrecht a few days ago. It signals the start, he says, of a new age of development: the industrial evolution.

This remarkable robot baby has been under development for a few years now. Through a collaboration with colleagues from a number of different universities, professor Eiben and his team have been developing a robotic delivery system that includes a ‘delivery room’, a ‘kindergarten’ and the ‘arena’, where the robots learn to walk, live, work and eventually procreate themselves. The result is the world’s first 3D printed robot baby, who can complete this whole lifecycle himself.

As a proof-of-concept, Eiben and his team developed a few robots with their own ‘robot DNA’, which is little more than the code that forms the robot (both in terms of hardware and software). And as Eiben explains to Scientias reporters, ‘robotic sex’ is slightly different from the human version. “It’s not as exciting as you might think,” Eiben explains. “Before people have sex, they first meet and ‘date’ and ‘court’ each other. Robots do that too.” Approaching each other at a certain distance, they first analyze their potential partner. If both end up with positive results, they have ‘sex’. This consists of little more than randomly combining their DNA through Wi-Fi.

The lucky parents

Together, they subsequently send this DNA mixture to a 3D printer, which produces a body that combines elements of both parents. “It 3D prints a large portion of the necessary parts, and does so completely randomly. So even if the robots produced more than one baby, each would be different from their siblings,” Eiben explains. But just like in nature, mutations can definitely occur. In the case of the world’s first 3D printed robot baby, the parents combined their spider-like and lizard-like movement techniques to form a hybrid creature.

The baby is subsequently trained to meet a few conditions before it is deemed sexually mature. Depending on its application, this could be anything from recharging its battery to walking at a certain speed. Should it never meet these conditions, the robot is recycled again. The conditions themselves are determined by humans, and can be altered for any application. Mining robots, for instance, need to be able to retrieve enough ore to be deemed mature. Maturity can, of course, be reached on the first day, depending on whether or not the new design is functional.

The beautiful (and slightly scary) result is a sort of industrial evolution system. Eiben’s team can program the robots in such a way that procreation is only possible by being very successful in their underwater mining application, for instance. Two successful mining robots can then positively review each other, and produce offspring that might be even more efficient. “That evolution comes extra, and you can’t even turn it off if you tried,” Eiben says. For robots that, for whatever reason, are unable to become sexually mature or find a partner, they disappear along with their DNA. Only the successful robots thrive and pass on their successful DNA. While this first baby doesn’t look to be more functional than its parents in any way, its siblings could arguably find new movement patterns quite quickly.

As Eiben explains, this evolution could be the key to overcoming current or even unforeseen obstacles through robotics. “Evolution is a powerful designer. The Evolution of Things is a new technology that harnesses the power of selection and reproduction to grow robots that are impossible to realize or conceive using classic techniques. The bodies, brains and behavioral patterns are constantly tested by the environment, with their useful attributes being strengthened through the generations,” he argues on the VU website. “This technology paves the way for new breakthroughs in robotics, AI, space exploration and even biology.”

Matrix-esque dystopian future scenarios are quickly imagined, but Eiben isn’t worried about where this is heading. “We purposefully set up a central facility where all children are produced. Humans are in control of the facility, and can shut down reproduction if they want to,” he says. “Robots won’t be able to multiply unchecked, my lab won’t work on that.” While skeptics might say that the robots could, over time, become so clever that they can find a way around it, Eiben says there is no possible scenario in which that will happen.

What’s more, this industrial evolution system is still quite modest and impossible to sustain without human assistance. “The 3D printer needs about twenty hours to 3D print all parts, and we have to assemble them by hand and find all the wires and CPUs in our supply room. While we are getting better at it, it will still take up to a day to give ‘birth’ to a robot baby,” Eiben says.

But with 3D printing technology improving constantly, Eiben believes it might be possible to 3D print moving parts in three to five years from now. “Once that is realized, industrial evolution will become a reality, and we won’t be the only ones working on it,” Eiben says. “This technology will greatly expand robotic potential, but it’s almost impossible to prevent abuse of the system.”

It’s all still very futuristic, but Eiben is currently envisioning three scenarios in which these robots will be used. The first is simply for research purposes: to give more insight into AI and natural evolution. The second is use in remote areas, where the robots can develop the most efficient movement or reconnaissance methods that suit the local environments. “It’s a combination of natural and human selection, with humans determining the criteria for procreation,” Eiben says.

Above: Professor Eiben

The third is more ambitious. “We could give the robots access to the nursery. We could do this when sending the robots to a distant planet, where they can individually optimize designs with the purpose of making planets inhabitable,” Eiben says. This 3D printed baby robot is only the first step in that direction, and 3D printing is expected to play a crucial role in the development of this new form of AI. Could we be looking at the robots of tomorrow?



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Julio wrote at 6/1/2016 3:19:43 PM:

The failure of this experiment will prove biological evolution is also an incredibly big lie. I bet no useful robots will come after this "evolution" The best robots will be the ones designed by someone. Of course, no one is trying to use this as a prove the biological evolution, but it will gives an insight of it. Evolution does not work because it doesn't exist. Is even evolution cientific? It's pure speculation.

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