Published: Fri, January 17, 2020
Electronics | By Kelly Massey

Team Builds the First Living Robots

Team Builds the First Living Robots

"The downside of living tissue is that it's weak and it degrades", said Joshua Bongard, who co-led the research. Those droids may be reprogrammable - but not so much as these microscopic xenobots.

Tara Deans, a biological engineer and an assistant professor from the University of Utah who wasn't involved with the new study, told Gizmodo that the work was significant because the authors "used the power of biology" to create "a "living machine" based on the parameters they set", namely the goal of movement. While the skin cells function to hold everything together, the heart cells make the muscles contract and the robots move.

But the amphibians' stem cells have proven pretty useful to U.S. scientists who have managed to produce the world's first living, self-healing robots using stem cells from our croaky friends. Plus, the xenobots come preloaded with their own food source, which should run out in about a week, unless they're in a nutrient-rich environment. To make matters even easier, once they've done their job, they can break down themselves as many natural living organisms do. Those models were sent to Tufts, where scientists painstakingly joined single stem cells to build the models created by the algorithm. They are neither ordinary robots nor a known animal species.

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Scientists at the University of Vermont have created the world's first living robot using living cells from frog embryos. The researchers used a supercomputer running the evolutionary algorithm and tested thousands of 3D designs to discover the most feasible structures for the Xenobots. We can't say the same about researchers at the University of Vermont and Tufts University, though - they announced this week that they have successfully developed tiny living "machines" of sorts. From delivering medicine to human bodies to clearing the oceans of microplastic, the new bots have the potential to change the world. They hope that this new type of organism - contracting cells and passive cells stuck together - and its eerily advanced behavior can help scientists unlock the mysteries of cellular communication. That meant that scientists had stuck real organic material together to create a life-form that had never been seen before in nature. The xenobots were able to move in a coherent fashion up to days or weeks at a time, the team found, powered by embryonic energy stores. They were able to work to push pellets around, organising themselves spontaneously and collectively, according to the researchers. Unlike traditional materials, the robots can be sliced nearly in half and will fix themselves back together again, they claim.

A lot of complex systems, like an ant colony, begin with a simple unit - an ant - from which it would be impossible to predict the shape of their colony or how they can build bridges over water with their interlinked bodies. "When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don't understand, we're going to get unintended consequences". A first step towards doing that is to explore: "how do living systems decide what an overall behavior should be and how do we manipulate the pieces to get the behaviors we want?"

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