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open-source self-reproducing robot

wealth for everyone by means of simple robots and near-term technology
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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]

Self replicating robot contest https://www.nextbig...ates-herox-for.html
[doctorremulac3, Apr 24 2022]

Bob's CNC https://www.bobscnc...c-routers-engravers
a router made from parts built on the router, plus hardware and a week of craftsman effort [sninctown, Sep 22 2022]

Self-Replicating Machines are the only means through which to spread through the Solar System https://www.nasa.go...tal_alex_ellery.pdf
[mylodon, Sep 22 2022]

Self Replicating Systems: A systems engineering approach https://ntrs.nasa.g...ads/19800025701.pdf
Nasa's consideration of the problem (from 1980!) [mylodon, Sep 22 2022]


       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

       This is friggin' brilliant. Where are we on this? Been almost a decade and a half since this was posted. [+]   

       Anybody suggested some kind of X Prize competition for this?
doctorremulac3, Apr 23 2022

       //self-reproducing robot//   

       What you've described is a system or a small factory rather than a robot [sninc] that isn't really self-replicating, at best it replicates some of its component parts, but never assembles them into another of itself, to be truly self-replicating you need it to get into real estate, buy a new home when it's saved enough money, commission the establishment of a new mini factory in its garage, open an account for it & gift it adequate funds to begin commercial operations.   

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

       So don't do that then [qt], open a new account, drop some cash in it for it's running costs & give it a debit card for that. When it runs out of money because of poor fiscal management, as it will many times before you get things just right, check through the logs to see where it went wrong adjust its decision making algorithms and systems accordingly drop some more cash into its account & let it have another go, rinse & repeat until you get it right.   

       Amazon & ebay accounts for it so it can sell a range of merchandise are going to be a definite requirement as well, on demand printed t-shirts, mugs & the like perhaps, maybe CDs & reprints of old books, music and films that have dropped out of copyright protection? stuff that can conceivably be fully automated from the online order to delivery (assuming pick up by either the postal service or some other parcel delivery service can be arranged & ordered online, which it can).   

       //Where are we on this? Been almost a decade and a half since this was posted///   

       I'm pretty sure some of the vendors on Amazon & ebay are very close / practically there already [doc], some of those operate with pretty minimal staff & close to zero human oversight in a lot of the areas involved from online ordering through production to posting the finished product .. certainly all the individual required elements exist & have done for some time if anyone cares to put them together .. the main problem is maintenance of the system once established, part replacement, changes in laws, a terms of service change from the bank etc, any unexpected change to the 'environment' (economic, legal or physical) has the potential to spell doom to the system once established if it was then left untended, without an actual intelligent overseer to make adjustments when needed it won't adjust to change very well.
Skewed, Apr 23 2022

       Those still can't reproduce without human assistance. As you point out it needs to be able to not only run every part of the business but finance it as well.   

       //certainly all the individual required elements exist //   

       definitely not.There's a huge gap in capability between a program that can recommend a particular product as potentially worth ordering and a program that can select, order, confirm, and accept a product. Then it needs to make a new marketplace sales page, design advertising copy, select (not recommend to a human but actually select on its own) a price point, and on and on. We won't get there before full sentient AI.   

       And thank you for pointing out how the economics have to work. That has been puzzling me for decades.
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       Selecting materials & parts suppliers, establishing an account with them etc, is part & parcel of what I was considering as the initial set up of the system [Voice], changes in their price structures or them going out of business necessitating finding a new supplier is part & parcel of 'changes to the environment' that would likely cause the system to collapse without the intervention of human input to make corrections (aka finding new suppliers).   

       With those assumptions & clarifications in place all the required elements do indeed exist, but (as I was sure I'd said with 'some' degree of clarity?) without some degree of human oversight it is guaranteed to collapse in short order at the very first unexpected hurdle thrown in front of it.
Skewed, Apr 23 2022

       So all the elements exist except the ones that don't.
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       All the elements for a self replicating system exist.   

       All the elements for a self replicating system capable of evolving & adjusting to meet unexpected challenges its developer didn't allow for & changes to it's initial environment do not.   

       It's a little like the difference between a plant & an animal perhaps, I think we've got everything we need to make the plant version but not the animal version.   

       Is that a little clearer? are we if not on the same page at least reading from the same book now?
Skewed, Apr 23 2022

       // All the elements for a self replicating system exist. //   

       But they don't! Not even for your hypothetical perfectly static marketplace. There is no AI that can decide to place an order for a new product. Or take a delivery and confirm the contents to a sufficiently robust standard. Or set up all the parts of an Amazon sales account. Or answer arbitrary questions about a product. Or unpack and photograph a product. Etc, etc etc.   

       Starting a business simply cannot be done by any set of programs or AIs that currently exist. Neither do all aspects of running one.
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       Name one that doesn't? [reads those already listed] none of those count, they don't apply to the scenario I outlined, new products wouldn't be a thing aside from something like customer provided images for printing onto mugs & t-shirts & that can be fully automated.
Skewed, Apr 23 2022

       The scenario in question is an ebay or amazon business, right? And by replicate, you mean make a new business, right? Not that adding new product lines is fully automated either by any set of existing programs.
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       // new products wouldn't be a thing//   

       So what part of this has anything to do with a replicating anything?
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       Someone places an order for a reprint of an out of print book > that can be fed directly to automated production > the finished book is boxed & delivered to the post room > email is sent out to a postal service to pick up and deliver > job done.   

       New materials can be ordered from suppliers as needed, we have fridges that do that > a mobile unit transports the delivered supplies to storage.   

       It can all be done.   

       [Pauses, gives the screen another read through]   

       Why would a new product line by mandatory for its 'offspring', that's like expecting a cow to give birth to a sheep!   

       That's not replicating itself, you're talking evolution now, no one said anything about it evolving.   

       [Stomps off muttering about people who change requirements without telling the contractor]
Skewed, Apr 23 2022

       To replicate means making a new thing. It doesn't have to be a different thing, but it does need all the parts. Your cow isn't making a new cow.   

       For a business to replicate you would have to start with one and end up with two.
Voice, Apr 23 2022

       //// new products wouldn't be a thing// So what part of this has anything to do with a replicating anything//   

       [Slaps palm to forehead with an expression of disbelief]   

       A new cow produces the same products as the old cow that birthed it you twit, it doesn't suddenly start producing a new product line like wool.   

       If you want wool you need a sheep & you aren't going to get a sheep from a cow without at least a little bit of evolution.   

       To replicate means to make a new copy of the same thing, I think you need a dictionary [Voice].
Skewed, Apr 24 2022

       I will use short words for you.   

       An ebay business has to do many things. Some of those things are ordering products, answering customer queries, and taking pictures of the product.   

       TWO ebay businesses have to EACH do those things. If they don't each do those things, they are not two businesses.   

       Replication means copying something. We are talking about copying a business. That means we are talking about copying all the functions of a business. If you don't copy all the functions of a business you are not making another business.
Voice, Apr 24 2022

       Short words are all you seem able to manage right now.   

       You also appear to have got your train of thought tangled there, you seem to think you're saying anything I'd disagree with in that last one & that it somehow has any relevance to what I was saying.   

       [Glances at [Voice] with a quizzical expression]   

       Have you been drinking again?   

       Perhaps you should sleep it off & come back to this tomorrow with a fresh eye.
Skewed, Apr 24 2022

       Now a new, different, not the same business has to do the things a business does. Those things include ordering things, receiving mail, and selling things. A business cannot sell things if it does not have them.   

       Business A buys things and sells things. You want to copy business A. So Business B also needs to buy things and sell things. Buying things and selling them means doing things like opening mail.
Voice, Apr 24 2022

       You're just repeating yourself now //Perhaps you should sleep it off & come back to this tomorrow with a fresh eye//
Skewed, Apr 24 2022

       I thought repetition would get the idea through to you. Sadly it seems to have failed. You probably should look up the definition of "replicate".
Voice, Apr 24 2022

       I'll let you have a nap & come back to this tomorrow, I think you need to read through this exchange carefully between now & then, because you've said some really daft stuff & don't appear to have read some of the things I said, some of that daft stuff you said is really daft in the context of the thing it looks like you're replying to but probably aren't because you didn't read it.   

       //Those things include ordering things//   

       [Rolls eyes]   

       You're actually in rage-response mode & not engaging your brain at all aren't you? take a look at what they're doing with fridges these days between now & tomorrow.   

       Catch you later o7   

       //read through this exchange carefully between now & then//   

       I'll do the same, I already spotted one of my replies that's sitting below a post you made after the one I was responding to so that it's less than clear that I was responding to the one I was responding to, so I've edited in the bit of yours it was meant for.   

       [Grins] I hope that sentence was clear.   

       Which can't have helped.
Skewed, Apr 24 2022

       // Where are we on this? Been almost a decade and a half since this was posted. //   

       There are widely available CNC router kits, which cost about 10x what I had estimated, and require a human operator to load in raw material, tooling bits, etc. Unfortunately, the act of assembling the kits appears to have negative value, in that new, unopened kits sell for about twice the going rate for a used, assembled, functioning CNC router built from the kit. (see Bob's CNC Evolution5 router new from manufacturer vs. used on ebay.) I don't know what to make of this.   

       I can dream of fully automated Quality Control or Integration and Test processes, run entirely by a computer checking the as-built hardware against the ideal design in simulation -- something that would give buyers confidence in the quality of the as-built machines -- but automating this process would be very difficult.   

       Maybe what's needed is a business that, for example, gives the hobbyist builders a QC check-list to ensure the quality of the machines, and helping hobbyists (who are paying to work) better collaborate with each other. In other words, a franchise. Like McDonald's, except for making robots instead of hamburgers. Aaargh.   

       State of the art seems to be the "grab and go" or checkoutless grocery store concept, which uses many camera to track where everything is and compare with an ideal state -- a necessary technology to keep track of inventory for building kits -- and these are not yet in widespread use, although the technology appears to work well enough to enable this idea.
sninctown, Sep 22 2022

       Not to go the magic AI route but. I was reading something about how human-sized robots are good for space work, as they can use existing human tools and operate human equipment in space ships.   

       Maybe the same thing applies here. We need successful general AI and a half-decent physical humanoid robot form. If we get a robot (even if not directly capable of replicating itself) that through AI and ability to communicate, can pick up all the normal human tasks. If things get hard, it could go into the supply closet and pick out paper for the printer, even give it a smack when it gets jammed. It could also argue policy and be late for meetings.   

       I have a working theory that half the people I interact with on Zoom are actually bots anyways. Once that becomes 100%, we are nearly there. More and more systems are AI based.   

       And, yes initially they can get humans to do things until there are enough robots replacing humans in all the jobs, so the robots are just delegating work to robots. They don't have to themselves manufacture anything, they can operate factories with dumber robots and assembly lines. It might be necessary to hard code that their goal is to use only robots as they may find it cheaper and easier to use humans (see: the tesla fluff incident)   

       Anyways, the general route requires a huge amount of effort, probably a singularity, while a more restricted and specialized reproduction route - has been investigated by Nasa and I'll add some links there.
mylodon, Sep 22 2022

       So out of idle curiosity and totally not because I'm using an AI avatar for zoom meetings how did you detect this?
Voice, Sep 23 2022

       I went around to a coworkers house, and looked in the window. No furniture, no fridge. Just window decoration and curtains. I then went to my bosses house. Again, nothing, as if he had moved out. Just a stuffed cat in the windowsill. In fact, if you look in the back windows of pretty much any house nowadays, there isn't anything in them. I haven't brought it up on zoom yet, I don't know if they know I know
mylodon, Sep 23 2022

       Ah this is the new "botlife chic" house decor craze. Basically all walls are hidden storage with flush push-latches to open, the outsides of the storage doors painted with off-white emulsion paint. All functioning appliances, seating, and shelving are mounted inside the outside wall either side of the window. The window is carefully dressed with stuffed pets and artificial plants. Motion detectors on the outside of the house light up discrete coloured subtly glowing LED strips around the inside of the window frames to alert the room occupants to remain seated either side of the window so as to stay concealed from view when a human (or robot) passes or approaches the window.
pocmloc, Sep 23 2022

       I assure myself I'm not a robot mostly by my consumption of puff pastry in lieu of electricity.   

       On second thought, adding a 2x inflation and 5x consumer goods markup would make my cost estimate right on.   

       Oh, to be a bot, upon a cot, all lost in thought. One cannot rot; no need to trot, or cook a pot of soup too hot; just rest and search for the bon mot.
sninctown, Sep 25 2022


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