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Cornell Takes Next Robotic Leap

John Stith
Staff Writer
Published: 2005-05-12

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Robots can now build more robots, at least on a simplistic level. Hod Lipson and his team at Cornell University developed a group of robots that can replicate themselves. It's considered a major breakthrough in robotics and while it may seem simple now, the future certainly looks bright.

The work, published in the new issue of the journal Nature, shows much promise in the robotic field. Scientists foresee robots with the ability to build others robots, even more complex robots, the ability to repair themselves or others, particularly on missions where humans aren't available, like deep space for example. A robot like this might be insanely useful to NASA right now as they try and figure out way to get their robot out of the dirt.

"Consider a robotic mission to a remote planet," Lipson said. "If a traditional robot is sent and it breaks, the mission is over. But if modular robots are sent over with a supply of materials, and a fault happens, they may be able to self-repair."

Much work is going in robotics right now and even the direction with which to send robotic development. The amorphous vs. evolutionary approaches are one area of contention right now. Amorphous or swarm uses specialized, one-function types similar to a hive and is currently being researched by NASA. The biological approach called evolutionary robotics is Lipson's area of interest and he thinks this will be the future. This area allows robots to interact with their environments and react appropriately, learning, adapting, etc.

It makes one wonder about the future of robots and where it's going and what it means to philosophical debates today. When Asimov wrote I, Robot, could he have envisioned where things were going? He would seem fortuitous. Is the robotic future somewhat grim, like say the Terminator, where robots will eventually take over, hunt us down and try to eliminate humans or is it something a bit more optimistic like Data from Star Trek? He did have positronic brain. In either case, robots, like computers are only as good as there programming. One can only hope that the programmers put a little binary code in their ever-broadening scope of commands and abilities that merely says right or wrong.

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About the Author:
John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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