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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Self-Assembling Robots  
  Robots with the capacity to assemble themselves from components, and then switch themselves on.  

This is a relatively early, explicit reference to this idea in sf.

The Sheem Robots were modeled after living animals of various worlds, and the Spider is considered to have been the most perfect of them all. This is the last specimen still in existence. You asked whether I had assembled it recently... Yes, I have. It's a most simple process...

The captain swung the gun up, pointed it at Yango's chest.

"What are you hiding?" he asked.

"Why, the activating mechanism," Yango frowned puzzledly. "I understood you wished to see it assembled. You see, the Sheen Robots assemble themselves when the signal to to it is registered by them."

From The Witches of Karres, by James Schmitz.
Published by Not known in 1966
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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Witches of Karres
  More Ideas and Technology by James Schmitz
  Tech news articles related to The Witches of Karres
  Tech news articles related to works by James Schmitz

Self-Assembling Robots-related news articles:
  - CkBot Modular Robot Self-Assembles, Picks Gait
  - Self-Assembling Robot Swarm
  - Robot Lamp Assembles Itself (Via 3D Printer)

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DIY Autonomous Robot Detects Trash
When Robots Beg For Their Lives
SRI MicroFactory Of Microrobots Recalls Dick's Autofac
Rolls Royce 'Cockroach-Sized' Repair Robots To Crawl Inside Engines

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