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replicator

A replicator is an object or organism that can make copies of itself. Examples abound in the biological world; cells are a common example. However, replicators can also be developed in the electromechanical (or mechatronic) realm. This is of interest to researchers in nanotechnology and robotics .

Replicators can exist in either of two forms, known as first-sense and second-sense. A first-sense replicator makes an exact duplicate of itself, including any changes that have occurred in its structure after it was created. A second-sense replicator maks a duplicate of itself as it existed when created. In biology, genes are first-sense replicators, while cells in general are second-sense replicators. First-sense replication is of particular interest, because it allows for the possibility of machine evolution.

A macroscale replicator, also called a clanking replicator, is a robot that can build a copy of itself using conventional materials and parts. Imagine a robot-building factory in which all the workers are robots that build other robots! There might be several different types (species) of robot, each designed for a particular task. Even the factory could, given the right programming of the robots as a team, be duplicated. Science fiction authors have exploited this theme by describing how a small team of robots could be sent to a planet to colonize it. The end result would be a planet with hundreds of robot factories, operated by robot-building robots.

A nanoscale replicator, also called an assembler, is a microscopic, self-duplicating machine with dimensions on the order of billionths of a meter ( nanometer s). Replicators of this type could be programmed to function as antibodies or anti-viral agents designed to attack and destroy specific disease-causing organisms inside the human body. The number of duplications could be controlled by programming, so when all the disease-causing agents were eliminated, the replication process would cease. Research and development efforts involving machines such as this are part of the field of biomechatronics.

This was last updated in September 2005
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