This technology is about living robots


What is living robots?

No bigger than a pin-head, the living robots – also called 'xenobots' – are a combination of cells from frog heart muscles (which contract for movement) and skin tissue (for structure)



Scientists create ‘living robot’ © Douglas Blackiston/Tufts University/PA

Tiny hybrid robots made using stem cells from frog embryos could one day be used to swim around human bodies to specific areas requiring medicine, or to gather microplastic in the oceans.“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont, who co-developed the millimetre-wide bots, known as xenobots.“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class ofartefact: a living, programmable organism

Algorithms shaped the evolution of the xenobots. They grew from skin and heart stem cells into tissue clumps of several hundred cells that moved in pulses generated by heart muscle tissue, said lead study author Sam Kriegman, a doctoral candidate studying evolutionary robotics in the University of Vermont's Department of Computer Science, in Burlington."There's no external control from a remote control or bioelectricity. This is an autonomous agent — it's almost like a wind-up toy," Kriegman told Live Science. Biologists fed a computer constraints for the autonomous xenobots, such as the maximum muscle power of their tissues, and how they might move through a watery environment. Then, the algorithm produced generations of the tiny organisms. The best-performing bots would "reproduce" inside the algorithm. And just as evolution works in the natural world, the least successful forms would be deleted by the computer program."Eventually, it was able to give us designs that actually were transferable to real cells. That was a breakthrough," Kriegman said. The study authors then brought these designs to life, piecing stem cells together to form self-powered 3D shapes designed by the evolution algorithm. Skin cells held the xenobots together, and the beating of heart tissue in specific parts of their "bodies" propelled the 'bots through water in a petri dish for days, and even weeks at a stretch, without needing additional nutrients, according to the study. The 'bots were even able to repair significant damage, said Kriegman."We cut the living robot almost in half, and its cells automatically zippered its body back up," he said.

"We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can't do," said study co-author Michael Levin, director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts. These might include targeting toxic spills or radioactive contamination, collecting marine microplastics or even excavating plaque from human arteries, Levin said in a statement.Creations that blur the line between robots and living organisms are popular subjects in science fiction; think of the killer machines in the "Terminator" movies or the replicants from the world of "Blade Runner." The prospect of so-called living robots — and using technology to create living organisms — understandably raises concerns for some, said Levin."That fear is not unreasonable," Levin said. "When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don't understand, we're going to get unintended consequences." Nevertheless, building on simple organic forms like the xenobots could also lead to beneficial discoveries, he added."If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules," Levin said.The findings were published online Jan. 13 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Scientists have created a new life form that's something between a frog and a robot. Using stem cells scraped from frog embryos, researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) and Tufts University assembled "xenobots." The millimeter-wide blobs act like living, self-healing robots. They can walk, swim and work cooperatively. Refined, they could be used inside the human body to reprogram tumors, deliver drugs or scrape plaque out of arteries.

"These are novel living machines," says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at UVM who co-led the new research. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It's a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."

To determine the best design for this new life form, researchers from UVM ran an evolutionary algorithm through a supercomputer. Then, the Tufts team assembled and tested the design using stem cells from the African frog species Xenopus laevis -- the xenobot name comes from this frog, not the Greek prefix meaning other or stranger.

What the team created is a body form never seen in nature. The cells work together, allowing the robots to move on their own in watery environments. They even spontaneously cooperated to move around in circles, pushing pellets into a central location.

Post a Comment

0 Comments