What Kind of Robot Can Replicate Itself?

Xenobots (clusters of programmable stem cells) have found a way to reproduce through “kinematic replication.”.
Xenobots (clusters of programmable stem cells) have found a way to reproduce through “kinematic replication.”.

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it's real: "Living" robots called xenobots have learned to reproduce, in a process known as "kinematic replication." However, instead of the metallic robots you might be imagining, xenobots are bundles of stem cells derived from African clawed frogs. Each is a biological machine, or, as University of Vermont robotics expert and study co-author Joshua Bongard calls them, "a livable, programmable organism." These xenobots can move, work together, and even heal themselves.

According to the latest reports, the scientists who created the xenobots watched in awe as they swept across a petri dish to form clumps from stray stem cells, which then grew into new xenobots. Such replication has never before been observed in living organisms, though it does occur at the molecular level.

“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,” Bongard said.

Robot bits:

  • "Robot," which comes from robota, a Czech word that means "forced labor" or "hard work," first appeared in the 1921 play R.U.R.

  • Japan is investing a large amount of its national budget to develop robots to care for the elderly.

  • The U.S. military employs about 4,000 robots, some of which are used to detect and defuse roadside bombs.

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    • Xenobots (clusters of programmable stem cells) have found a way to reproduce through “kinematic replication.”.
      Xenobots (clusters of programmable stem cells) have found a way to reproduce through “kinematic replication.”.