Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines

© 2004 Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Ralph C. Merkle. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2004.


3.25.1 Lipson Self-Extending Machines (2002)

Following in the tradition of the 1980 NASA replicator study which adopted 100% materials closure as its goal (Section 3.13), Hod Lipson at Cornell University was awarded a Phase I NIAC contract to study “Autonomous Self-Extending Machines for Accelerating Space Exploration” during 1 May 2002 through 31 October 2002 [1295, 1296]. This work expanded an earlier discussion by Lipson and Pollack [927] of the “self-extending machines” concept, wherein robots evolve from basic building blocks using rapid manufacturing technologies.

According to the study abstract: “The rate at which we explore planets is tightly linked with the rate at which we are able to successfully complete robot deployment cycles. Judging from past experiences of Mars and Lunar explorations, the design-fabricate-test-deploy cycle takes an order of a few years to complete at least. The approach advocated here shifts the focus from designing and launching the ultimately capable and robust robot, to launching a fabrication system that can fabricate and recycle task-specific robots in the field, as well as extend its own capabilities. In this vision, a self-contained fabrication facility is launched with initial material and component stock. Tested blueprints are transmitted subsequently for fabrication on site, as appropriate to exploration state and findings. Materials and components recycled from the original spacecraft, unused robots and in-situ resources of energy and material are used to construct newer machines as required. The focus of this proposal is on the architecture of a 100% automatic, self-contained and versatile fabrication process, capable of autonomously producing an entire working machine with no human intervention. This proposal is well grounded in the physics of new multi-functional materials and free-form fabrication, yet the focus on fully autonomous fabrication of complete systems is a uniquely new and enabling challenge that has not been addressed before. This phase will deliver two parts: (a) an architecture of a fully autonomous deployable self-extending machine, along with a comprehensive study of required functionalities and candidate materials and components, and (b) an evaluation of the architecture through a limited concept implementation. The goal is to allow an informed assessment of the merits of this approach, and decision as to pursuing a second phase of investigation validating fully autonomous fabrication of complete working robots involving actuation, sensing and logic. This research will help NASA achieve its goal of completing missions more frequently, less expensively, and with greater flexibility.”


Last updated on 1 August 2005