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Robots that breed

Robots that breedCould we build a machine that can replicate itself? One mechanical engineer has proved that it is possible.

From 'Battlestar Galactica' to 'The Matrix', imaginative writers have warned us against creating machines that can “breed”. However one engineer from the University of Bath has shown that some self-replicating machines can be used for good.

Dr Adrian Bowyer is a lecturer in mechanical engineering, and has created the first machine that is capable of copying itself. The ‘RepRap’ machine works as a kind of 3D printer. It is given the materials and fed with a computer programme which tells it what the parts should look like. But it isn’t just a machine for reproduction, by altering the computer programme, the machine can currently make any crude plastic object. So far it has successfully produced sandals, door hooks, coat hangers and fly swats, as well as other machines just like itself.

And far from being dangerous, Dr Bowyer believes it is "potentially an extremely powerful technology." The machine itself costs around £250 to make, and Bowyer believes it could "give everybody - ultimately - the ability to make virtually anything for themselves in return for being helped to reproduce."

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