In one sense, the idea of robots building and repairing robots is obvious and old hat. And repairing yourself can be a pretty simple extension of repairing some other machine. But it’s not done very often.
This fall researchers from the University of Tokyo reported on demonstrations of teaching a self repair operation to commodity robots . Specifically, the robots learned to use their own manipulators to tighten screws on their own body. (For this demo, the robot didn’t figure out for itself when a screw needs adjustment.)
Now, tightening a screw isn’t a gigantic deal. However, robot manipulators are not really designed to reach their own body, so some screws are going to be challenging. And some of them require an Allen wrench, which is a different grip and generally calls for changing the grip as you go, ‘regrasping”.
They also demonstrate that once you can do screws, you can screw on additional pieces, such as carrying hooks. Neat.
Part of the trick is that they use CAD data describing their body. They use this data to learn how to operate on themselves. Duh! It’s so obvious, once you see it!
It seems to me that part of the challenge here is that these generic robots were not designed to self-repair or even repair each other. There is no reason for this. With a bit of care, robots can be assembled in ways that are easier for them to self-repair. One way to assure this is to use robots to assemble the same model of robot. And CAD systems themselves can analyze designs to maintain self-repair-ability.
This concept will be especially interesting to combine with evolutionary design. The robot should not only be able to assemble and repair a robot, it should learn to optimize the assembly/repair process, presumably in tandem with evolutionary design of the robot to be assembled.
(To prevent a runaway robot uprising, the system should have to submit detailed proposals and requests for funding, in order to acquire the resources needed for the new versions. That ought to keep them under the control–of accountants!)
- Evan Ackerman, Japanese Researchers Teaching Robots to Repair Themselves, in IEEE Spectrum – Robotics. 2019. https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/japanese-researchers-teaching-robots-to-repair-themselves
- Takayuki Murooka, Kei Okada, and Masayuki Inaba, Self-Repair and Self-Extension by Tightening Screws based on Precise Calculation of Screw Pose of Self-Body with CAD Data and Graph Search with Regrasping a Driver, in IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots (Humanoids 2019). 2019: Toronto. p. pp.79-84.