The main focus of the REPLICATOR project is to investigate and develop novel principles of adaptation and evolution for symbiotic multi-robot organisms based on bio-inspired approaches and modern computing paradigms. Such robot organisms consist of super-large-scale swarms of robots, which can dock with each other and symbiotically share energy and computational resources within a single artificial-life-form. When it is advantageous to do so, these swarm robots can dynamically aggregate into one or many symbiotic organisms and collectively interact with the physical world via a variety of sensors and actuators. The bio-inspired evolutionary paradigms combined with robot embodiment and swarm-emergent phenomena, enable the organisms to autonomously manage their own hardware and software organization. In this way, artificial robotic organisms become self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing and self-protecting from both hardware and software perspectives. This leads not only to extremely adaptive, evolve-able and scalable robotic systems, but also enables robot organisms to reprogram themselves without human supervision and for new, previously unforeseen, functionality to emerge. In addition, different symbiotic organisms may co-evolve and cooperate with each other and with their environment.
The above sketch shows the basic idea of our hormone controller (artificial homeostatic hormone system, AHHS). Hormones are excreted by sensors, diffuse between the robot modules, and control the actuators. Based on this system a vast variety of locomotion principles can be achieved applying artificial evolution principles as shown below (for details see this paper).
The above photo shows a preliminary experiment with robot prototypes. Five autonomous robot modules of two kinds are connected physically, by ethernet, and by energy bus. Sensor input and actuator control is processed by a hormone controller (AHHS). More details about controlling robotic organisms (i.e., multi-modular robots) are given in this paper.