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open-source self-reproducing robot

wealth for everyone by means of simple robots and near-term technology
  [vote for,

First, build a simple armed robot to do machining-- combine a low-cost robot arm like the Lynx 6 (see link) and a small dremel tool with an end-mill bit. This machine could be programmed to cut the plywood parts used in the kit. Then, a copy of the robot arm could be assembled by hand from 8 servo-motors (~$15 each), one servo-control board that attaches to a computer's serial port ($50), a dremel tool ($40), an end-mill bit ($10), and screws and other cheap hardware ($10). Thus, for less than $250, a robot arm could be constructed that is better than an arm selling for more than $350. This arm would be capable of simple machining tasks of soft materials. Control software would use open-loop control. Control via sending serial commands could be programmed fairly easily in any high-level language, but adapting existing CNC software to control a simple robot might be somewhat difficult.

Assuming a small number of people find this sort of machining tool useful, an open-source project similar to the reprap project (see link) could encourage additional improvements. Adding a grabber arm instead of a mill head would allow the robot arm to perform assembly of new arms as well.

This process of improving these small manufacturing robots could end with a garage-full of computers and robots that autonomously order materials online, pick up the packages left by the postman, assemble additional copies of themselves, mail finished robots and other robot-machined/assembled products to paying customers, and deposit the proceeds in the owner's bank account. If a similar technology reaches this point, all of humanity would be freed from menial work, and the additional wealth could allow the adoption of pollution-free technologies.

sninctown, Apr 22 2008

Lynx 6 Robotic Arm Kit http://www.lynxmoti...uctID=4&CategoryID=
[sninctown, Apr 22 2008]

RepRap Project http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome
An open-source project that resulted in machines capable of making all the parts needed to build them through using 3-D printing. [sninctown, Apr 22 2008]

Dremel tool http://www.cporotar...s.com/rotary_tools/
[sninctown, Apr 22 2008]

another rotary tool... http://www.halfbakery.com/user/rotary
[RayfordSteele, Apr 22 2008]

eMachineShop http://www.emachineshop.com/
You send a design, they manufacture it for you [Srimech, Apr 22 2008]

That's the hard way; this is easier. http://hardware.sla...sid=08/04/07/210205
Ever heard of 3D printing? [Vernon, Apr 23 2008]

Video: Self-Replicating (but fairly useless) Robots http://www.youtube....watch?v=VyzVtTiax80
A research group at Cornell made these in 2005. These electronics-filled blocks can stack themselves. Useless, but cool-looking. [sninctown, May 24 2008]


       Well, the idea of self-replicating robots in general is completely baked as your own links reference. Your specific path is mostly baked but I believe still worth discussion because no one has yet succeeded in turning this into a reality.   

       The first question in self replicating robots is usually raw materials. You have chosen internet purchase and shipping which I think is reasonably unique too me. It seems a little scary to me to have the robot order it's own parts, but it seems completely doable.   

       The next question is design and here think you are making a mistake. A jointed arm controlled directly by servos is useful, but not very accurate. The problem is gear lash. All gears need to be a little loose to move and that extra space gets magnified by and arm. Some of this can be accounted for in programming, but it's very hard to get enough for even stuff like drilling holes in the wood that you need to mount the servos.   

       That's why most projects like this start with a basic fab module and then add on. In this case, with your choice of the internet as your raw material, I'd start with a basic micro milling machine. Use the dremel tool but control the movement with threaded rods in channels like the fab center. This will allow you to make the arm to feed parts into the mill and then make more arms, etc. Also for arm control you may want to think about servos controlling threaded rods or hydraulics for a movement with more accuracy.
MisterQED, Apr 22 2008

       Cue "The Sorceror's Apprentice."
DrCurry, Apr 22 2008

       I think you should rename this because the innovative part is the internet ordering of materials. Everything else is done by Reprap. I like the internet-ordering idea though.   

       You could go one step further and order parts from eMachineShop (linked) or something similar, and do away with the CNC machine altogether.
Srimech, Apr 22 2008

       // I like the internet-ordering idea though.//
Would it replicate credit cards then?
coprocephalous, Apr 22 2008

       I assume the system has a sideline in making novelty bottle openers and bike spanners which it uses to fund its world domination business.
Srimech, Apr 22 2008

       I'm not sure if it's safe to give a robot automatic control of my credit card...   

       Also, it sounds ominously like the combination of two dangerously self-replicating systems: 1) autonomous self-replicating robots, already a scary enough science fiction idea, and 2) a pyramid scheme.
qt75rx1, Apr 22 2008

       Hey, [RayfordSteele]! Warn you, I can smelt you down for a recycled robot!
rotary, Apr 23 2008

       I could see customer service getting into it with these guys.
daseva, Apr 23 2008

       “Assuming a small number of people find this sort of machining tool useful,"   

       Why can we assume this?
bneal27, Apr 23 2008

       Build a robot that would instruct you how to build a better robot next time! Again and again in circles, until the creator passes away and a bionic child would assume the throne.
rotary, Apr 24 2008

       It's not the menial labor we as a world population need freed from, it's the laws of economics.
RayfordSteele, Apr 24 2008

       Yes. They mentioned that a really advanced models could produce food and end world hunger. But plants already self reproduce and make food and the world nonetheless has lots of starving people.
Bad Jim, May 24 2008

       //But plants already self reproduce// True, but they don't harvest and cook themselves, and deliver themselves to consumers.   

       //It's not the menial labor we as a world population need freed from, it's the laws of economics.// Economic study has shown that technological improvement is responsible for nearly all of the improvement of the human condition over time. Machines allow each worker to produce more, and therefore to consume more. All products use human labor, either to build them or to build the machines that build them. Much of this labor could be performed by robots, but at a much higher cost. Examples include stocking shelves, building houses, and sorting recycling. A self-reproducing robot technology would lower the cost of robots to perform these tasks, lowering the cost of the products.   

       Example: the recycling of mixed trash is not economical due to the mess and difficulty of sorting it. There are robots capable of identifying and sorting objects such as trash, but they are very expensive. A self-reproducing robot system could lower the cost of robot parts enough to allow recycling of trash from landfills.   

       This idea is different from RepRap in that it focuses on autonomous self-replication before part manufacturing. RepRap robots require a person to spend many hours assembling them by hand. I think 3D printing could be used by self-reproducing robots to reduce the number of parts that must be mail-ordered. A RepRap-style 3D printer still needs an assembly system to achieve autonomous self-replication.   

       //Your specific path is mostly baked but I believe still worth discussion because no one has yet succeeded in turning this into a reality.// I agree. I think robotic arm manufacturers (FANUC etc) are working towards this point, with use of their own robots in their factories. Many modern factories already approach full automation, and I suspect that the only reason this sort of idea hasn't been fully baked yet is difficulties in AI and image processing. I suspect that the sort of hobbyist-level project I describe could not function reliably with only open-loop control, and an imaging system (ie a webcam with image-processing software) would be needed (ie for the robot arm to accurately find and pick up parts). This aspect of the project would be very difficult, and for this reason I am not attempting this project at this time.   

       I suspect that either the open-source approach I describe here or gradual improvement of industrial robots will result in useful self-reproducing robots, but I have no idea when.
sninctown, May 24 2008

       "//But plants already self reproduce// True, but they don't harvest and cook themselves, and deliver themselves to consumers."
Yes, but plants don't malfunction and deliver themselves to the *same* consumer!

       If it's self-reprpoducing, isn't it pretty much open source by definition?
phoenix, May 24 2008

       Your proposed robots can only self-reproduce provided that humans handle the higher logistics—those crucial decision-making, planning and management. Consequentially, this idea is somewhat crude. (Too easily, it is already adopted in progression through system integration, and the resulting overall process already implemented in lavish secret manufacturing laboratories and research facilities worldwide.)
rotary, May 24 2008


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