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- Greg Bear

Christmas Bush Motile Robot  
  Repair robot with extra-sensitive hands.  

These robots are the physical extension of the artificial intelligence system of their spaceship - James. When the robot has it's limbs extended and laser lights on, it looks like a Christmas tree.

The "hands" of the Christmas Bush have capabilities that go way beyond that of the human hand. The Christmas Bush can stick a "hand" inside a delicate piece of equipment, and using its lasers as a light source and its detectors as eyes, rearrange the parts inside for a near instantaneous repair. The Christmas Bush also has the ability to detach portions of itself to make smaller motiles. These can walk up the walls and along the ceilings with the tiny cilia holding onto microscopic cracks in the surface. The smaller twigs on the Christmas Bush are capable of very rapid motion. In free fall, these rapidly beating twigs allow the motile to propel itself through the air. The speed of motion of the smaller cilia is rapid enough that the motiles can generate sound and thus can talk directly with the humans. Each astronaut in the crew has a small subtree or "imp" that stays with him or her to act as the communication link to the main computer. Most of the crew have the tiny imp ride on their shoulder, although some of the women prefer to keep theirs in their hairdo. In addition to acting as the communication link to the computer, the imps also act as health monitors and personal servants. They are the ideal solution to the perennial problem of spacesuits ... scratching an itchy nose. The imps go into the spacesuit with the humans, and more than one human life was saved by an imp detecting and repairing a suit failure or patching a leak. In fact, there are two computer motiles with each suited human. The personal one that stays with the human, and the spacesuit motile that stays with the suit. This motile is usually outside in the life-support backpack, but can worm its way inside through the air supply hose."
From Rocheworld, by Robert Forward.
Published by Not known in 1985
Additional resources -

According to the introduction to the novel, the idea of a Christmas bush robot was "jointly conceived" by Forward and Austrian roboticist Has Moravec.

Thanks to Ben Lipkowitz for supplying the quote.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Rocheworld
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Forward
  Tech news articles related to Rocheworld
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Forward

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