World first: robots that procreate

Science fiction is becoming reality: professor of Artificial Intelligence at VU Amsterdam Guszti Eiben and his team have developed robots that can procreate.

05/26/2016 | 3:00 PM

This breakthrough is a significant first step in the Industrial Evolution and can play an important role in, for instance, the colonization of Mars. During Campus Party in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht on May 26 2016 two of Eiben’s robots demonstrated robot mating and the first robot baby was unveiled.

This means that in addition to developing their brains by learning, robots can now develop their bodies through evolution. Because robot parents select suitable mating partners with certain desirable properties, successive generations can improve their physical form and behavior, adjusting these to their environment and the task they have to perform. This makes them suitable for locations where the circumstances are unknown in advance, such as mines in deep seas or other planets.

Eiben and a group of scientists from other universities have previously established a system architecture that consists of a ‘Birth Clinic’, a ‘Nursery’, and an ‘Arena’ where robots live, work, and reproduce. After a development period of a year and a half, Eiben and his team at the VU succeeded in implementing a complete life cycle.

They completed a proof-of-concept and created physical robots that have their own ‘DNA’ and can produce children via a 3D-printer. During reproduction the features of the parents are randomly recombined, including the software (the brain) as well as the hardware (the body). After ‘birth’ the newborn robot undergoes a learning process; if it passes muster it becomes an adult and can become a parent itself.  

Autonomously operating robots
This breakthrough marks the beginning of a new era –the Industrial Evolution– where machines that autonomously operate and reproduce are no longer fiction. Eiben: “Evolution is a great designer. The Evolution of Things is an emerging new technology that exploits the power of selection and reproduction to breed robot designs that are hard to obtain by traditional approaches. Robots that evolve can adapt to their environment and cope with unforeseen situations.  The bodies, brains, and behaviors are continually tested by the environment and the useful traits are amplified in future generations. This technology opens new perspectives for robotics, artificial intelligence, space research, and even biology.”

Robot baby with parents
Robot baby with parents. Different color blocks show that the baby robot got combined DNA from both parents.

More information

Watch the video in which the scientists explain their discovery

For further information and images, please visit the website of Guszti Eiben.