A notable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the first “living robots” in the world.
A research team of robotics and scientists published their methodology this January 2020 to make a new life-form called stem cell xenobots. The name “xeno” comes from the cells of frogs (Xenopus laevis) used for making them.
One of the researchers outlined the creation as “neither a traditional robot nor a known animal species,” but a “new class of artifact: a living organism that can be programmed.” Xenobots are smaller than 1 mm long and consist of 500–1000 living cells. They have different simple shapes, including some with squat “legs.” In linear or circular directions, they can propel themselves, join together to act collectively, and move small objects.
The research team used a supercomputer to test thousands of random designs of simple living things that could be performing certain tasks to make xenobots. The computer was programmed with an “evolutionary algorithm” AI to predict which organisms are likely to exhibit useful tasks, such as moving towards a target. After being damaged they too can repair themselves.
Many believe they could be used by collecting microplastics to clean our contaminated oceans. Likewise, they can be used to scavenge pollutants or radioactive materials from restricted or dangerous areas. Xenobots designed with carefully shaped “pouches” could be capable of transporting drugs into human bodies. Future versions may be built to repair tissue or target cancers from the patient’s own cells.