Complex Made Simple

Wait a minute! Bots that make babies?

Image source: https://scitechdaily.com/

A team of scientists from the University of Vermont (UVM) has discovered a new form of reproduction in computer-designed organisms (CDOs)

Scientists designed 'parent' xenobots in the shape of Pac-Man xenobots could help deliver drugs within the body or to clean up environmental contaminants Robots capable of complicated tasks are simply too complex for humans to design directly on their own

A team of scientists from the University of Vermont (UVM) has discovered a new form of reproduction in computer-designed organisms (CDOs). These robots ingest single-cell organisms and release “babies” that look and move like them, said a university press release

These are a modified version of Xenobots which scientists were able to activate new sensors and motors on and even produce them faster. But like all living cells, a few days after they were manufactured, the cells inside the 0.7-mm organisms would begin to die, ultimately leading to their death. 

Image source: https://now.tufts.edu/

Scientists designed ‘parent’ xenobots in the shape of Pac-Man. Inside a petri-dish, these bots could then swim out to individual cells and gather hundreds of them at a time. After a few days, bots scoop up free-floating cells or spheres of around 3,000 cells, and assemble them into new clusters, transforming into new “baby xenobots” that moved and acted as the parent.

Using AI, and supercomputers, scientists essentially designed living robots from frogs’ stem cells

But there’s a limit to how many baby bots can be created. It turns out that these xenobots will replicate once. But the children are too small and weak to make grandchildren.

With further development, xenobots could be used in medicine, such as to help deliver drugs within the body or to clean up environmental contaminants, the Smithsonian reported last year.

Improving big bot performance

Elon Musk’s recent announcement of an upcoming Tesla Bot complete with a human form, “human-level hands” and a characteristically optimistic delivery date has garnered a healthy dose of skepticism.

Among other capabilities, Musk says, the robot will eventually be capable of running errands such as going to the grocery store alone. Boston Dynamics, which has developed the most advanced humanoid robot ever created, has spent more than a decade working on its Atlas platform enabling it to run, jump and even dance in front of millions of YouTube viewers. Advanced, but not quite smart and nimble.

According to many experts, robots capable of complicated tasks that require constant feedback or learning are simply too complex for humans to design directly on their own. Instead, the future of robotic development and design could be based on robots selecting which features are most useful for a specific outcome, in essence performing mutations, as viruses do. It’s not so much the robots that are evolving, but rather the processes themselves that are creating an evolution.

But even with all these breakthroughs, risks are involved. Even a task like going grocery shopping is deceivingly complex, and a variety of robotic mistakes like crossing a street in front of traffic could put humans in danger.

Still, use cases could range from robotic firefighters and search-and-rescue robots to nuclear waste cleanup robots, home care robots, and more.

Deeper exploration of our solar system is also a viable possibility. We could send unmanned missions deep into space and these robots would be able to adapt to whatever planet they landed on, reusing components, adapting according to their environment, and eventually sending data back to Earth.