Scientists funded by DARPA, the federal agency which develops technology for military use, have announced that the world’s first living robots, created in 2020, now have the ability to reproduce in a way not seen in nature.
World’s first living robots can self replicate
In 2020, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering created the first living robots called xenobots.
The findings were published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS.
What is a xenobot exactly?
“In that way it’s a robot but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell,” explains Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.
The xenobots were created using the stem cells of the African clawed frog, known as Xenopus laevis, which they are named after. The living robots are less than a millimeter wide (0.04 inches).
Scientists say the world’s first living robots can now reproduce
This week, science announced that the biological/artificial intelligence-derived lifeforms can now self-replicate and do so in a manner not observed in plants and animals, CNN reports.
In experiments, the xenobots demonstrated moving, working together in groups, and even performing self-healing.
The replication process, which is known to occur at the molecular level, is called “kinetic replication.” Scientists say it has never been observed in its manner with the xenobots, which is at the scale of whole cells or organisms.
Scientists used artificial intelligence to test billions of body shapes to make the xenobots more effective at this type of replication. The end result was a C-shape that scientists say resembles Pac-Man from the eponymous 1980s videogame.
In describing how the replication works, tiny stem cells in a petri dish were able to gather hundreds of them inside its mouth, and within a few days, the bundle of cells replicated into new xenobots.
Scientists say they are “astounded” after observing that, after they “liberate (the cells) from the rest of the embryo” the living robots figured out “apparently a new way to reproduce.”
How military projects trickle down to benefit public
The research that created the world’s first living and self-replicating robots was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a federal agency that oversees the development of technology for military use. The potential uses for this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence may include tasks such as regenerative medicine, inspecting root systems, and even collecting microplastics in the oceans.
Many things first developed by DARPA with military purposes initially in mind, have made their way to the public and world-changing ways.
Among the amazing technologies first developed by DARPA include the Internet (envisioned in 1963), graphical user interface (GUI) and computer mouse (1964), GPS (1983), Siri (2002), drones (1988), as well as stealth technology for aircraft and seagoing vessels.