The Navy has issued a proposal asking for someone out there to build it “a coordinated and distributed swarm of micro-robots” that can manufacture “novel materials and structures.” So these would be robots that can work together to build things, presumably even other robots. The Navy intends for the robot swarm (and yes, that is an actual quote from the proposal) to use desktop manufacturing, which allows you to “print” 3-D objects with equipment you can fit on your desk and program with your laptop.
Desktop manufacturing is probably best known in the form of products like Makerbot, with which you can fabricate 3-D objects out of plastic.
The Navy wants these cooperative robots to be able to “pick and place, dispense liquids, print inks, remove material, join components” and “move cooperatively” and to assemble objects as well as create them. The examples of things the Navy wants them to make include “multifunctional materials” and “metamorphic materials” and also “programmable materials”. Hmm, programmable materials, like other robots, perhaps?
According to Danger Room:
“Darpa, the Defense Department’s far-out advanced research wing, has previously experimented with “programmable materials” to create shape-shifting machines like the self-folding origami robot that can change into a small plane and boat.
Intel, one of Darpa’s partners on the research has suggested the technology could one day go further, making it able to “mimic the shape and appearance of a person or object being imaged in real time.”
Shape-shifting robots that can work together, and build other robots. Pretty crazy stuff.
If you think you can accomplish this, the official Navy Proposal is here.