Scientists have created the world’s first living, self-healing robots. They have been named xenobots after the African clawed frog from which they took their stem cells (called Xenopus leavis). The xenobots are less than a millimetre wide and can walk, swim, survive many weeks about food and even work together in groups.
The research was conducted by the University of Vermont and Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Centre. According to the researchers this is “an entirely new life-form.”
They scraped living stem cells, which are unspecialised cells that have the ability to develop into various different cell types, from frog embryos and left them to incubate. The cells were then cut and reshaped into specific “body forms” which were designed by a supercomputer. These are forms “never seen in nature”, according to a statement from the University of Vermont.
It isn’t just a science experiment, however. These xenobots can move towards and are programmable, so will be deployed for a variety of tasks. Scientists site functions such as searching out radioactive contamination, gathering plastic pollution from the oceans, and traveling though our arteries to scrape out plague. They can also survive in water without additional nutrients for weeks, so they could be suitable for internal drug delivery.
“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, one of the lead researchers. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artefact: a living, programmable organism.”
You wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking they don’t look like traditional robots. There aren’t any blinking lights, circuit boards or shiny metals. This “biological machine” can achieve things that a typical robot cannot, which is why it was created.
According to the study, traditional robots “degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects.” But xenobots are more environmentally friendly and safer for human health.