Skip to main content

‘Mother robot’ builds children that evolve and get better with each new generation

mother robot builds children cambridge screen shot 2015 08 13 at 5 50 48 pm
Robots, they’re just like us! They drive, they serve beer, and now, they have “babies.” In an astounding video recently released by scientists at Cambridge University, a “mother” robot is shown constructing her “children” out of mechanized blocks, then testing them to see which ones are most well-suited for survival. Then, in an epic show of favoritism, mama robot takes evolution into her own hands, deconstructing the least successful baby bots and rebuilding them based off of the most successful ones. In this way, researchers say, robots are applying an almost Darwinian sense of natural selection and evolution, whereupon the best survive and have their characteristics “passed on.”

On the origin of (robot) species

In five separate iterations, the robots were observed over a period of 10 generations, during which the original robot built a number of “cube-bots,” robots constructed of small plastic cubes containing motors. The “mother” then tested her offspring by measuring how far it could travel from a fixed point in a fixed period of time. With each new generation, the robot would maintain the design of the best “child,” and then improve upon the design in conceptualizing the next set of cube-bots. Ultimately, the team at Cambridge and ETH Zurich found that the desired traits were given preference in such a way as to allow the 10th generation of cube-bots to perform twice as well as the first generation.

Related Videos

In a statement, Cambridge engineer Dr. Fumiya Iida of Cambridge, who worked alongside researchers at ETH Zurich, said, “Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on. That’s essentially what this robot is doing — we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species.”

And this doesn’t only apply to robots — in fact, researchers hope that insights garnered from these experiments may further inform how humans themselves have evolved and how natural selection takes place. Iida coninuted, “One of the big questions in biology is how intelligence came about — we’re using robotics to explore this mystery. We think of robots as performing repetitive tasks, and they’re typically designed for mass production instead of mass customization, but we want to see robots that are capable of innovation and creativity.”

Soon enough, our children may be playing with robot children — and with their speed of evolution, it may not be long before humans are left in the dust.

Editors' Recommendations

Watch this robot peel a banana without slipping up
A peeled banana.

While most folks can peel a banana without giving it a second thought, incorporating the same capability into a robot is a greater challenge than you might imagine.

That’s because peeling a banana is in fact a highly delicate process. With so much variation among bananas according to shape, size, ripeness, and overall condition, your brain is making a series of lightning-quick decisions every time you go to peel one.

Read more
This LG robot could soon be serving your restaurant meal
LG's CLOi ServeBot robot.

When LG’s CLOi robot first came on the scene in 2018, it didn’t get off to the best of starts.

On stage at CES with former LG marketing chief David VanderWaal, CLOi clammed up at the worst possible moment, leaving VanderWaal to conclude that “CLOi doesn’t like me.”

Read more
Ecovacs’ new Deebot X1 cleans your home and itself

Well-known robot vacuum maker Ecovacs has revealed its newest robot floor cleaner as part of CES 2022: The Ecovacs Deebot X1, and this one is a pretty significant upgrade, with useful new tech.

By now we’re all familiar with robot vacuums and mops, and perhaps even the models that will do both all in one bot. So far these have been super handy automated cleaning helpers, but their biggest downside has been the maintenance; if you don’t empty your bot’s onboard dustbin daily, or refill the water tank, they aren’t as effective. So far, manufacturers have made them capable of evacuating the dustbin all on their own, but the mopping maintenance has been elusive. Until now.

Read more