During the summer of 2015, researchers at the University of Cambridge gave robots one of the key advantages that living things previously held over them: the ability to evolve. While the method that the robots utilize is not exactly natural selection, it is still a significant development in the world of robotics.
The “mother robot” was designed and tested in a project led by Fumiya Iida, University Lecturer in Mechatronics, and was given its name due to its practice of assembling smaller cube-shaped “baby” robots by gluing different provided pieces together in a variety of possibilities. In a short period, the mother robot creates a generation of baby robots that it assesses as having either desirable or undesirable offspring characteristics. As awful as it might seem for any mother to do so, the ones that it computes as deficient are disassembled, and it uses their parts as the building blocks for the next generation. This process actually works; after a few generations, the children were running twice as fast as those from the first generation were.
This can be an interesting way to see evolution happen on a relatively small and expedited scale. While this process differs significantly from the mutations and extinctions that shape natural selection in living things, it still has the same outcome in a much more deliberate manner. Animals can determine the traits in their offspring through the selection of a mate, but the mother robot has the advantage of constantly altering its children and hand selecting the traits it wants removed in them. Interestingly, robotic evolution is similar to the process of artificial selection that created modern dogs.
Since this type of research would usually be done virtually, it could be much more advanced with the use of artificial intelligence evaluating thousands of millions of possibilities in a computer situation, instead of the few that are physically in front of the mother robot. This type of technological understanding could lead to robots with artificial intelligence that would have the capabilities to make even more robots with artificial intelligence in a limited matter of time.
However, current robotics standards, which are developed and published by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), are obviously designed for the interaction of robots with humans, not really for robots that can make other robots. If mother robots and self-maintained robotic evolution are to become the norm, then the guidelines will be adjusted to accommodate the fabrication of their children.