Xenobots are the first man-made, self-healing robots. Named after the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus Laevus), they are about 0.04 inches wide. These Xenobots have the ability to walk, swim and last for weeks without food. They are considered to be a different form of life, programmable organisms.
Image courtesy of the University of Vermont.
How are they made?
Developed from repurposed frog cells, stem cells are extracted from embryos of the African clawed frog. These cells are then left to incubate. These creatures were designed by a supercomputer at UVM, where they are cut and reshaped into specific “body forms.” They are then put together and further tested by scientists at Tufts University.
The robots use an evolutionary algorithm that is reminiscent of the process of natural selection. “The algorithm conjured thousands of random configurations of between 500 and 1,000 skin and heart cells and each one was tested in a virtual environment,” states an article written for the MIT Technology Review.
Artificial Intelligence is quickly developing, and these “soft robots” have the potential to achieve things that robots made of metal and plastic cannot.
When cut, Xenobots are able to heal themselves. These creatures could have “a massive impact on regenerative medicine.” said a website researching these CDOs. Regular robots have the potential to “degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects,” said researchers in the study, as well as take up resources.
These “biological machines” are much more environmentally friendly, resulting in less waste, and are overall much safer for human health. Because of their size, researchers theorize that they could be used to collect microplastics in the ocean. Xenobots have been found to have the ability to survive in aquatic environments without the need for sustenance for days. This could allow scientists to utilize them for internal drug delivery.
Xenobots may also help scientists learn more about cell biology, allowing them to better understand human health.
Xenobots created at the moment are basic in terms of functioning. Future alterations could lead them to have nervous systems and cognitive abilities. This would allow them to react to their environment. It is unclear if they should be treated as robots or living beings.
Since these robots are created from the embryos of the African clawed frog, there could also be the ethical issue that it is hurting the population and killing frogs that could have lived.
There will always be ethical concerns in new technological developments, but Xenobots are a great way to understand human health, develop artificial intelligence and help humans accomplish new things.
Heaven, W. (2020, April 02). These "xenobots" are living machines designed by an evolutionary algorithm. Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/01/14/238128/these-xenobots-are-living-machines-designed-by-an-evolutionary-algorithm/
Living robots built using frog cells. (2020, January 13). Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200113175653.htm
Yeung, J. (2020, January 15). Scientists have built the world's first living, Self-healing robots. Retrieved March 07, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/13/us/living-robot-stem-cells-intl-hnk-scli-scn/index.html
Article Contributors: Idil Gure, Edie Whittington
Article Editor: Victoria Huang