Miniature Factory

How do we build a self replicating robotic complex ?

Basically by bringing together knowledge and expertise on a variety of topics:

The objective of this group is to build complex little robots (most about the size of a rabbit), each capable of grasping and manipulating small to medium sized objects. Then to organise them in such a way that they can use rock (or moon dust) and sunlight as raw materials to make another identical set of machines, and a basic set of other goods and services, as instructed by someone.
It will be the group as a whole which is capable of producing a copy, not the individual sub-units. On earth the complex would also have one or more human interface units, to talk to and directly serve the needs of its owner.

Working with devices of this size is easy with today's technology. We can build small powerful motors, sensors, and manipulators with relative ease. For specialists in those fields, this is old hat but used in a new way.

This robotic complex will be designed with a communications hub to be connected by satellite or optic fiber to all other complexes world wide.

Control programs are likely to need occasional human input.
It is almost certain that systems will occasionally encounter situations for which their control systems are not programmed to handle.
Once they find themselves in a situation they are not programmed to handle, they can send out a call for help to human operators.
Such calls could have video and animations of what had lead to the present predicament, that would be replayed to a human operator, who could then try out some options in simulation, then send the instructions back to the machine.
The current generation of kids raised on computer games are well skilled to perform this sort of role.

The total complex should have a mass of less than 5 Tonnes (2 ton appears possible).
This would allow for up to 200 little robots at bewteen 0.5 and 2Kg each, some specialised but most generalised; with most of the remaining mass being specialist production equipment (lathes, furnaces, cutters, etc.).
Power could come from thin film solar cells - at 4% efficiency, 4 micron thick, 1Kg would cover 100 square meters and delivering 2.5 kW under normal sunlight. (100Kg would cover 1 hectare and deliver 250kW of power for 6 hours a day on earth).

The cost of putting the first machine together could be quite high (about $US30 Billion), but it makes the next, then they make 2 more, then they make 4 more, and so on.
After 33 doublings, there as many of them as there are people, and empowering can start.
Two years after finishing the first one the cost per unit is low (under US$0.01 each).
The productive capacity is hard to imagine (even for an imagination like mine).

The limiting factor is the time and energy required to make a copy.
On Earth that doubling time is likely to be a couple of months at best.
In space, it should be easily possible to do in two weeks (the limit appears be about 2 hours).
If the doubling time is two weeks, it takes 16 months to grow to completion.
If the doubling time is 6 months, it takes 17 years.
Two weeks looks possible for systems above the atmosphere.
Growing in the deserts, or on the oceans, may be possible in useful time-frames.

We would certainly want to develop and test the system down here, perhaps with added energy inputs, before launching it. But the best place to make it grow is likely to be in orbit, with mass supplied from the moon initially and later from asteroids.

Once that sort of productive capacity is available, many things become possible.

Communications invited.

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