US scientists have created the first living robot named “xenobots” by grafting cells of African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) into small a robot.
Named xenobots after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which they take their stem cells, the machines are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide — small enough to travel inside human body. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups.
These are “entirely new life-forms,” said the University of Vermont, which conducted the research with Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center.
Xenobots don’t look like traditional robots — they have no shiny gears or robotic arms. Instead, they look more like a tiny blob of moving pink flesh. The researchers say this is deliberate — this “biological machine” can achieve things typical robots of steel and plastic cannot.
The first 3D configuration is randomly generated from 500-1,000 skin and heart cells. Each design is then tested in a virtual environment to select the best models. Because the heart cells automatically contract, they act as miniature motors that control robots. Powered by stored energy, these cells can survive for about a week to 10 days before dying.
Robots are usually made of metal and plastic, which are durable materials. However, Levin and his colleagues argue that making robots from biological tissue could offer many benefits. When damaged, living robots can heal their wounds, and once completed the task, they decompose like natural creatures.
The scientists say these unique features can be used to clean the ocean, locate and digest toxic substances, put drugs into the body or remove plaque from artery walls.