It has been argued that a central objective of nanotechnology is to make products inexpensively, and that self-replication is an effective approach to very low-cost manufacturing. The research presented here is intended to be a step towards this vision. We describe a computational simulation of nanoscale machines floating in a virtual liquid. The machines can bond together to form strands (chains) that self-replicate and self-assemble into user-specified meshes. There are four types of machines, and the sequence of machine types in a strand determines the shape of the mesh they will build. A strand may be in an unfolded state, in which the bonds are straight, or in a folded state, in which the bond angles depend on the types of machines. By choosing the sequence of machine types in a strand, the user can specify a variety of polygonal shapes. A simulation typically begins with an initial unfolded seed strand in a soup of unbonded machines. The seed strand replicates by bonding with free machines in the soup. The child strands fold into the encoded polygonal shape, and then the polygons drift together and bond to form a mesh. We demonstrate that a variety of polygonal meshes can be manufactured in the simulation, by simply changing the sequence of machine types in the seed.
JohnnyVon is an implementation of self-replicating machines in continuous two-dimensional space. Two types of particles drift about in a virtual liquid. The particles are automata with discrete internal states but continuous external relationships. Their internal states are governed by finite state machines, but their external relationships are governed by a simulated physics that includes Brownian motion, viscosity, and springlike attractive and repulsive forces. The particles can be assembled into patterns that can encode arbitrary strings of bits. We demonstrate that, if an arbitrary seed pattern is put in a soup of separate individual particles, the pattern will replicate by assembling the individual particles into copies of itself. We also show that, given sufficient time, a soup of separate individual particles will eventually spontaneously form self-replicating patterns. We discuss the implications of JohnnyVon for research in nanotechnology, theoretical biology, and artificial life.