SYMBRION - Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms is a project intended to investigate and enable adaptation and evolution of multiple robot systems. A swarm of robots will create what amounts to a new, artificial "life-form."
(Cooperative swarm of bots)
The SYMBRION project is trying to see if robots in swarms could evolve new behaviors, and become self-healing and self-protecting. Such robots could reprogram themselves without the need for direct supervision by human beings.
Here's a short video on prototype robot swarms from Carnegie Mellon University:
(Shape-shifting robot swarms at Carnegie Mellon video)
Science fiction readers have already seen some great thinking on this topic from writer Stanislaw Lem, particularly in his 1954 novel The Invincible. In the story, human beings encounter (among other things), a vast cloud of tiny machines, a nanomachine swarm. Is it possible that these tiny machines evolved from the homeostatic robots created to maintain visiting ships?
"The robots were unharmed and left the ship. They were highly specialized homeostatic mechanisms, capable of withstanding the most difficult environmental conditions...
We'd have to assume, of course, that these machines were capable of producing other machines according to their specific needs of the moment. ...the robots would have perfectly adapted to life on the continents of the planet.
...Hundreds of generations later the 'offspring' of the first mechanisms were no longer anything like the first products created by the Lyre civilization. Do you follow me? It was the beginning of an evolution of nonliving things, an evolution of machines."
(Read more about Stanislaw Lem's ideas on inorganic evolution)