WASHINGTON— What parent doesn't want to mold their child to be better - faster, smarter, more capable? Even though human parents can’t do that, a robot that builds its own children can. Scientists at the University of Cambridge in England have created a mother robot that not only constructs its own children, but tests their performance.
It's a robotic version of nature's survival of the fittest. The mother robot analyzes the performance of each of the “children” it creates, and incorporates preferential traits into the next generation.
"As the mother creates them and puts them to work, she evaluates how they’re behaving, and she uses data from this behavior to create the next generation of robots,” explained research scientist Andres Rosendo.
There’s no human intervention, except for a computer command to create a robot capable of moving from one place to another. The mother builds its children by gluing together pieces with small motors inside, in different configurations. Then it watches how quickly the children move, keeping the designs of the ones that moved the fastest.
“The mother robot can actually build hundreds of child robots and see the performance of these child robots. And if their performance is good, keep their design for the next generation. And if bad, just let it go,” said Fumiya Iida, lead researcher.
The motivation to produce better children is controlled by the research team, which provides an incentive.
“We program the robot based on some functions that define the reward the robot is going to get, depending on the construction that they make. They cannot change their own reward. In the case of the child robot, it’s distance, so the longer the distance the robot walks, the better the reward it receives,” said Rosendo.
After several generations, the "children" were running twice as fast.
“The mother robot generated 500 robots to see what one is good and which one is bad,” said Iida.
The researchers suggest the machines could be used in an auto plant, for example, where robot cameras scrutinize each car in the assembly line, evaluate any mistakes, and then design a better car.