Scientists at the University of Vermont, have created a new class of artifact, called xenobots. They have used frog’s stem cells to fabricate first living robots.
Since, it is a living yet programmable organism, it is neither traditional robot now does it fall into any category of animal species.
1 millimeter sized tiny globules are developed from living tissue and assembled into bodies designed by computer models.
These mobile organisms are capable of moving independently as well as collectively. They have also shown two main properties:
- Ability to self-heal (after being cut) and
- Survival for weeks
Cells were first extricated from the embryos of African frogs, mainly from skin and heart muscle cells. After separating into single cells, they were left to incubate.
Then, using small forceps, the blob was cut. But later joined into a tiny cluster. The bots show ability to repair significant damage. Just like the natural order of things, the cells began to work together.
Able to maneuver on its own
Heart cells naturally contract while skin cells don’t. Aim of using these two types of cells was to see if these two different functional cells are bonded together, maybe it could give rise of another type of functional structure that could move.
Entire program was guided by computer’s design. The skin cells morphed into passive architecture of the tiny living machine. While contractions of heart muscle cells were driving the spontaneous self-organizing patterns. Similar like muscle actuators.
These reconfigurable organisms were able to move in all directions. For weeks they explored their watery environment. However, like beetles, they failed the resilience of flipping back once turned over.
The bots are fed on algorithm, which means, their evolution too is based on it. Forms that are not performing at full potential will get replaced by ideal performing forms. Bot’s inner ecosystem is capable of performing these calculations without any ‘outside’ interference.
As per the researchers, they could find applications in the following areas:
- Looking for radioactive contamination, where their presence is unintended or undesirable
- Collecting plastic waste from ocean
- Removing blockages like plaques from within the arteries
Humans have always been a curious being. And robotics is one such field where we try to replicate how other living forms emerge and co-ordinate with other organs. The quest is not new. We are still far from understanding how complex properties, apparently, emerge from simple rules.
In our quest to comprehend the natural process we try to create living programmable machines. Machines that are now trying to understand us. While we, humans, are hooked on to them.