Hod Lipson works at the intersection of engineering and biology, studying robots and the way they "behave" and evolve. His work has exciting implications for design and manufacturing -- and serves as a window to understand our own behavior and evolution.
To say that Hod Lipson and his team at Cornell build robots is not completely accurate: They may simply set out a pile of virtual robot parts, devise some rules for assembly, and see what the parts build themselves into. They've created robots that decide for themselves how they want to walk; robots that develop a sense of what they look like; even robots that can, through trial and error, construct other robots just like themselves.
Working across disciplines -- physics, computer science, math, biology and several flavors of engineer -- the team studies techniques for self-assembly and evolution that have great implications for fields such as micro-manufacturing -- allowing tiny pieces to assemble themselves at scales heretofore impossible -- and extreme custom manufacturing (in other words, 3-D printers for the home).