Scientists have created the world’s first ‘living’ robots by using stem cells from frog embryos. These millimeter-wide “xenobots” will be able to move towards a designated target, pick up a payload such as a medicine, and heal themselves after being cut.
From moving in arteries to scrape out plaques to searching for contamination deep in the ocean, the possibilities are endless for these tiny robots.
These new creatures were designed on a supercomputer and then built by biologists. What they did was truly remarkable: they turned the cells into machines that can be programmed to work with their wishes.
"Xenobots" take their name and stem cells from the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). They can regenerate and are entirely biodegradable when they die. Killing them is not easy though: unlike traditional materials, the robots can be sliced almost in half and will fix themselves back to their normal form.
In order to create them, researchers took stem cells from the embryos of African frogs. After incubating them, they used extremely tiny tools to cut them apart. The parts were assembled into the designs created in the supercomputer.
This is truly extraordinary since scientists basically meshed organic material together to create a life-form that didn't exist in nature before.
The tiny robots move pretty slowly and they are able to push other objects around. Researchers also created a pouch inside the new life-forms which will enable them to carry a payload around in the future.
These “xenobots” sound like sci-fi nightmare fuel and developments such as these must be threaded lightly. If these systems that we create become adequately complex, it might be impossible for us to predict their future behavior.
This is not an unreasonable fear. However, this new study is an important step towards understanding such systems and getting a handle on what people are afraid of in the first place. The thought of tiny robot soldiers navigating through your bloodstream might keep you at night, however, it might not have to be scary at all.