Programmable living robots (MOBHouse)
Programmable living robots (Image: University of Vermont)

Fancy a new pet? The combination of modern computing technology and biophysics has achieved something never done before… Xenobots!

Living robots, is the future finally here?

Scientists have successfully created programmable living robots by taking living cells from frog embryos and turning them into robots. They are called “Xenobots”, named after the species of frogs, Xenopus Laevis,  where the cells were taken from.

Less than a millimetre wide, these robots were designed using a supercomputer at the University of Vermont and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University.

They simulated the cells using the supercomputer and used an evolutionary algorithm to finally get the most promising designs after 100 independent runs of the algorithm, which took months of processing time. Imagine having a supercomputer and this process still took months.

Robert Hooke discovered cells (MOBHouse)
Proud Robert Hooke (He discovered cells)

What can they do?

Unlike conventional robots, these Xenobots are 100% cells, which make them fully biodegradable, meaning they won’t cause ecological or human health problems. They can even heal themselves after being cut!

As we can see from its characteristics, it would be very suitable for medical uses, such as carrying specific medicine to a specific place inside a patient and travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque. Frog robots helping humans preventing heart attacks? CRAZY.

Other potential uses also include searching and handling radioactive waste, gathering microplastic in the ocesan. Frog robots cleaning up the ocean for us? INSANE.

Xenobots (MOBHouse Productions)
Frogs or Robots? (Image: Tufts University)

So… are they frogs or robots?

Although they are 100% made up of cells, they are neither traditional robots nor a species of animal. According to Joshua Bongard, who co-led the research, Xenobots are a new class of artefact: a living and programmable organism. 

So what do you think about these Xenobots? Excited? Concerned? Tell us more in the comments below!