World's first living robots created, and they learned how to reproduce

A team of researchers has successfully created the first living robot that has recently learned how to reproduce in a new way.

@JakConnorTT
Published Mon, Dec 6 2021 12:04 AM CST   |   Updated Wed, Dec 29 2021 7:29 PM CST

Researchers have achieved something that sounds like the beginning of a science fiction movie - living robots that have learned to reproduce.

Pac-Man-shaped xenobots gathering stem cells into piles, which will then mature into xenobot offspring.

A new study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS has detailed a team of researchers using stem cells from the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) to create the first living robots called xenobots. Researchers from the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering who created the living robots said that they have discovered a new form of biological reproduction called "kinetic replication".

Stem cells are cells that are yet to be specialized in a specific purpose, and the researchers used stem cells from around 3,000 cells. Originally, the xenobots used were shaped like a sphere, but according to researchers the replication process was only occurring rarely. So, the researchers used artificial intelligence to assist them in finding out what the most effective shape the xenobots could be for replication efficacy. The supercomputer gave its final shape design, and the shape looks very similar to Pac-Man.

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"Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it's not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people. In that way it's a robot but it's also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell," said Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.

What the researchers found was that this Pac-Man-shaped design of xenobot was able to locate and carry cells in its mouth, which would then become a new xenobot a few days later.

Xenobot rotating a pile of stem cells into a ball, creating a new xenobot.

"The AI didn't program these machines in the way we usually think about writing code. It shaped and sculpted and came up with this Pac-Man shape. The shape is, in essence, the program. The shape influences how the xenobots behave to amplify this incredibly surprising process," said Bongard.

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Jak joined the TweakTown team in 2017 and has since reviewed 100s of new tech products and kept us informed daily on the latest science and space news. Jak's love for science, space, and technology, and, more specifically, PC gaming, began at 10 years old. It was the day his dad showed him how to play Age of Empires on an old Compaq PC. Ever since that day, Jak fell in love with games and the progression of the technology industry in all its forms. Instead of typical FPS, Jak holds a very special spot in his heart for RTS games.

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