Intelligent Design

RepRap: Self Replication – by Design

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Do self replicating systems arise from design or solely by materialistic processes? A self replicating system has just been designed by Adrian Bowyer and demonstrated a the University Of Bath.

Studying RepRap is likely to give further insights into the requirements for self replicating systems. Then those can be compared with self replicating biotic systems and evaluated as to whether those could have arisen by materialistic processes, or if that most probably would indicate intelligent causation.

The RepRap site states:

A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and – in addition – make other industrial products. Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

Note the requirements for a controller and software:

The RepRap software comes in two chunks: the code that runs in the microcontrollers in the RepRap machine itself, and the code that runs on the host (usually a PC running Linux or Windows, or a Mac). This page links to the documentation for these:
* The RepRap software on the host. This is written in Java. The Javadocs are here.
* The RepRap microcontroller firmware. This is written in C.

Now how might it be subject to “Darwinian evolution”? And what are prospects for such “evolution”? Some clues: How good are its design tolerances, error correction and self repair mechanisms?

Rapid prototyping printer replicates itself

R&D Magazine, June 4, 2008

A Univ. of Bath academic who oversees a global effort to develop an open-source machine that ‘prints’ three-dimensional objects, is celebrating after the prototype machine succeeded in making a set of its own printed parts. The machine, named RepRap, will be exhibited publicly at the Cheltenham Science Festival (4-8 June 2008).

RepRap is short for replicating rapid-prototyper; it employs a technique called “additive fabrication”. The machine works a bit like a printer, but, rather than squirting ink onto paper, it puts down thin layers of molten plastic which solidify. These layers are built up to make useful 3-D objects.

RepRap has, so far, been capable of making everyday plastic goods such as door handles, sandals and coat hooks. Now, the machine has also succeeded in copying all its own 3-D-printed parts.

These parts have been printed and assembled by RepRap team member, Vik Olliver, in Auckland, New Zealand, into a new RepRap machine that can replicate the same set of parts for yet another RepRap machine and so on ad infinitum. While 3-D printers have been available commercially for about 25 years, RepRap is the first that can essentially print itself.

The RepRap research and development project was conceived, and is directed, by Adrian Bowyer, a senior lecturer in engineering in the Faculty of Engineering & Design at the Univ. of Bath, UK.

Bowyer says that: “These days, most people in the developed world run a professional-quality print works, photographic lab and CD-pressing plant in their own house, all courtesy of their home PC. Why shouldn’t they also run their own desktop factory capable of making many of the things they presently buy in shops, too?

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5 Replies to “RepRap: Self Replication – by Design

  1. 1

    Very interesting, but RepRap is not truly able to replicate itself. All it did is print its own parts just like it would print any list of parts of any other machine. Certainly a good first step, but there is a ways to go before it can self replicate.

    As such, there is certainly no evolution going on with it just yet.

    I do expect at some point (probably within 5-10 years) someone will create a truly self replicating maching — either on the microscopic scale or the macroscopic. As you very rightly allude to, it will be interesting to see what its design tolerances are, error correction, and self repair, if any.

  2. 2
    DLH says:

    Eric Anderson at 1
    Excellent observation. As with claims of “creating life”, this claim for self reproducing capability ignores the challenge of replicating all the software and the hardware controller.

    It also makes no mention of the energy source or of processing the material needed for it to replicate the parts.

    By contrast, what a marvel is the simplest self reproducing cell.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:


    Not to mention, the little matter of self-directed, autonomous self-assembly. [Cf the living cell . . .]

    Here’s good old Evo Mat-leaning prof wiki:

    A self-replicating machine is an artificial construct that is capable of autonomously manufacturing a copy of itself using simpler components or raw materials taken from its environment . . . . A self-replicating machine would need to have the capacity to gather energy and raw materials, process the raw materials into finished components, and then assemble them into a copy of itself. Further, for a complete self-replication it must, from scratch produce its smallest parts, such as bearings, connectors and delicate and intricate electronic components. It is unlikely that this would all be contained within a single structure, but would rather be a group of cooperating machines or an automated factory that is capable of manufacturing all of the machines that make it up.

    The factory could produce mining robots to collect raw materials, construction robots to put new machines together, and repair robots to maintain itself against wear and tear, all without human intervention or direction. The advantage of such a system lies in its ability to expand its own capacity rapidly and without additional human effort; in essence, the initial investment required to construct the first self-replicating device would have an infinitely large payoff with no additional labor cost.

    Such a machine violates no physical laws, and the basic technologies necessary for some of the more detailed proposals and designs already exist.

    The same article mentions:

    In 2005, Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath started the RepRap Project to develop a rapid prototyping machine which would be able to manufacture most of its own components, making such machines cheap enough for people to buy and use in their homes. The project is releasing its designs and control programs under the GNU GPL.[27] The RepRap approach uses fused deposition modeling to manufacture plastic components, possibly incorporating conductive pathways for circuitry. Other components, such as motors and discrete electronic components, would be supplied externally. As of 2006 the project has produced a basic functional prototype.

    A long way to go yet, I’d say.

    Not to mention, as you underscored, the machine was . . . er, ah, ahem . . . DESIGNED.

    GEM of TKI

  4. 4
    JunkyardTornado says:

    Their website I think said the big breakthrough was getting extrusions of polymers at room temperature as opposed to extremely high heat.

    It seems like whatever breakthrough occurs with self-replication could have been long ago demonstrated with software. You could have some piece of software that you could hit a button and it would copy all its files and installation routine to wherever you designated free of charge. Of course most people try to prevent unauthorized (i.e. uncompensated) copying of their software. Furthermore all software has the ability to fabricate other types of bits strings in memory or external storage.

  5. 5
    DLH says:

    Excellent extract describing requirements essential to self replication. That gives just an inkling of the complex functions essential to a self replicating cell to which RepRap does not even come close.

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