Meet the first living robot! – Xenobots
Are you a sci-fi fan? Think about your favourite sci-fi movie, how it goes beyond the limitations of science and makes you believe that a man can be half human and half robot or that a robot can also be a living being. These movies always fascinate us as they transport us to a different world. But what if we tell you that these sci-fi movies are closer to reality than you think?
Behold! The ‘New Creature’ created by mankind – Xenobots
Yes! A team of scientists has recently developed a new creature called ‘xenobots’ which is as alive as you and I but is actually a robot. And surprisingly, they do not have any legs, arms, head or eyes.
At first glance, they may look like a sloppy, blurry blob but when observed under a microscope, these millimetre-wide ‘xenobots’ can be seen swimming around, as if they were born to do so.
Birth of these strange little Xenobots
Now you must be wondering how scientists created this ‘new creature’? Well, xenobots were designed on a supercomputer using the stem cells from the embryo of African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis (and hence the name ‘xenobots’). These xenobots are composed of only two things – skin cells and heart muscle cells and are just about 1 millimeter (0.01 centimeter) wide. Their skin cells provide them rigid support and the heart cells act as tiny motors, which propel them to move in linear or circular directions. They were developed by a team of scientists at the University of Vermont and then were tested in the lab at the Turf University.
A groundbreaking creation
Composed of 500-1000 living cells, xenobots have some amazing features.
- They are designed to walk, swim, push or carry an object, and work together.
- They can move towards a target and carry a payload (for example, medicine that needs to be placed at a certain location inside a patient)
- They come in many shapes, which are designed by roboticists.
- They can survive for a week by feeding on the small platelets of yolk that fill each of its cells.
- They can self heal after a cut.
- Although they are described as ‘programmable living robots’, they are completely organic and are made of living tissues.
With all these features, xenobots have been described as “novel living machines” by Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert who co-led this research. Bongard says that xenobots are “neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal”, but “a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism”.
With a remarkable combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biology, xenobots are currently used as a scientific tool to understand the functions of individual cells and how they cooperate to build complex bodies during morphogenesis (the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape.). But considering their potential, xenobots can be used for a host of tasks.
- Studies say that xenobots could be used to clean our polluted oceans by collecting microplastics and cleaning up radioactive waste.
- They could also carry medicines inside human bodies and place them at the targeted location.
- Since they can survive in an aquatic environment for a week without any additional food, they could be suitable for internal drug delivery.
- Given their biodegradable nature, they would also have an edge with technologies made of metal and plastic.
We are sure that in the coming years, we will see more scientific innovations like xenobots that would evoke wonder and also some amount of concern. What if in the future, xenobots find a way to go beyond laboratories and reproduce in the wild? After all, as the famous Dr. Ian Malcolm in the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ says, “Life, Ah, finds a way!”
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Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself.
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