Scientists who developed the first living robots have shown that the organisms known as xenobots, they say, can now reproduce to learn.
Made from stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), Xenobots are less than a millimeter wide and can move, work together as a group, and even heal themselves.
But now the scientists who developed them have found that they can reproduce in a whole new way – very different from the biological reproduction of any living plant or animal.
“I was amazed,” said Michael Levin, professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, as reported by CNN.
In this new form of reproduction, the xenobots effectively harvest loose stem cells and collect them in piles, which can then mature into xenobots.
“Frogs have a mode of reproduction that they normally use,” Levin said. “But if you … free [the cells] from the rest of the embryo and you give them a chance to find out how they can be in a new environment, not only do they find a new way to move, but they seem to find a new way to reproduce. “
However, they soon discovered that replication was rare in the original, spherical Xenobots. And only under certain circumstances. The bots used a process known as kinetic replication – known at the molecular level, but never on this scale using whole cells or organisms.
After the researchers realized that the Xenobots’ shape was hindering them, they used AI to test a variety of new body shapes to maximize the stem cell harvesting process. The AI opted for a C shape that resembles the iconic gaming character Pac-Man.
“The AI didn’t program these machines the way we normally think when we write code. It shaped, shaped, and made this Pac-Man shape, ”said Josh Bongard, lead study author – a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont. “The shape is basically the program. The shape influences the behavior of the Xenobots to amplify this incredibly surprising process. “
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