Biological life is in control of its own means of reproduction, which generally involves complex, autocatalysing chemical reactions. But this autonomy of design and manufacture has not yet been realized artificially. Robots are still laboriously designed and constructed by teams of human engineers, usually at considerable expense. Few robots are available because these costs must be absorbed through mass production, which is justified only for toys, weapons and industrial systems such as automatic teller machines. Here we report the results of a combined computational and experimental approach in which simple electromechanical systems are evolved through simulations from basic building blocks (bars, actuators and artificial neurons); the 'fittest' machines (defined by their locomotive ability) are then fabricated robotically using rapid manufacturing technology. We thus achieve autonomy of design and construction using evolution in a 'limited universe' physical simulation coupled to automatic fabrication.