I'm at the excellent Swarm Intelligence conference in Brussels, called appropriately ANTS. This morning there is a special session on morphogenetic engineering, chaired by René Doursat, of the complex systems institute in Paris. Morphogenetic engineering is the name coined for a new cross over between biology and engineering. Current engineered systems are designed and 'built'. Biological systems on the other hand grow from seeds or embryos. Morphogenetic engineering asks the question, might it be possible to 'grow' complex engineered systems, like robots?
Of course with current materials: metal and plastic, we can't grow robots so many of the ideas of morphogenetic engineering remain, for the time being, future concepts. But I think we'll see some exciting developments in this new sub-field as new materials become available.
Here is an image from our talk* on autonomous distributed morphogenesis in the Symbrion project, presented during the special session. Here you see robots being recruited to join the 2D planar organism during its formation.
* Wenguo Liu and Alan FT Winfield, 'Autonomous morphogenesis in self-assembling robots using IR-based sensing and local communications', ANTS 2010.