They look like Pacman and move independently: According to their creators, the Xenobots are a “new class of living artifacts”.

These are the replicating robots.

That's what

  • Scientists have invented a new type of robot.

  • These are smaller than a millimeter.

  • They can also reproduce independently.

  • In the future, they will be used in medicine, for example.

It sounds like an invention from a sci-fi novel: Tiny little biorobots that can reproduce on their own. What seems fantastic has actually been achieved by a research team led by Michael Levin from Tufts University near Boston with the development of mini robots, so-called Xenobots. The Xenobots were originally presented in early 2020. At that time, however, they still had to be put together individually by laborious manual work according to a precise construction plan.

The team has now taken a giant step forward in that the tiny robots can now multiply themselves, as explained in the research magazine PNAS will. This represents a groundbreaking breakthrough in being able to use robots in humans in the future. For example, they could be used to produce insulin, repair injuries to the spinal cord or transport tiny objects, as reports.

A Pacman form

The Xenobots consist of skin or heart muscle cells of the clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). As has been shown, the robots, which were less than a millimeter in size, were able to crawl on their own. They obtained the energy for this from the reserves in the cells, from which they could feed for several days. The scientists speak of a “new class of living artifacts”. “Some people have said that xenobots are not organisms because they cannot reproduce, now they can,” says Levin.

This is what the Xenobots look like.

This was made possible with the help of algorithms that have simulated a wide variety of methods for multiplying the cells. As has been shown, the final composition of the cells looks similar to the game character Pacman. This could continue to reproduce with the help of stem cells, so that up to five new generations of Xenobots could be formed.

The small robots have not yet found practical application because they are still in the development phase and at a very early stage. But the new technology has a lot of potential, explains Josh Bongard from the University of Vermont, who was involved in the development of the Xenobots. The mini-robots could not only be used in medicine, but also help, for example, with the collection of microplastics in the sea.


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By Teresa Tapmleton

Teresa Tampleton has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Nizh TEkegram, Teresa Tampleton worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7341

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