Scientists at the Brandeis University in Massachusetts have developed robots that design and build their own bodies. Hod Lipson and his team have attempted to dispense with the separation between hardware and software, claiming that full automation can only be achieved through evolving the body and the brain simultaneously and continuously. Three technologies are key to this: the increasing fidelity of mechanical simulation, rapid prototyping and manufacture, and evolutionary learning software.

The behaviour of the brain and body are first simulated using neural network software, the robots then replicate themselves into the real world using a fused deposition manufacturing (FDM) process that deposits thermoplastic material layer by layer to build a physical robot. So far, the robots have been pretty basic, but it’s thought that advances in processing power, and miniaturisation of rapid prototyping technology will help pave the way for autonomous robots that can change their shape and design to cope with unpredictable environments.