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Team Builds Living Robots That Automatically Design New Machines in Simulation

a manufactured quadruped organism

A manufactured quadruped organism, 650-to-750 microns in diameter, is a bit smaller than a pinhead.

Credit: Douglas Blackiston / Tufts University

A team of scientists has repurposed living cells — scraped from frog embryos — and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. The millimeter-wide "xenobots" can move toward a target and heal themselves after being cut.

"These are novel living machines," says Joshua Bongard, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Vermont who co-led the research. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It's a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."

The xenobots were designed on a supercomputer at UVM, and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University.

The work is described in "A Scalable Pipeline for Designing Reconfigurable Organisms," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With the supercomputer cluster, the team used an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of candidate designs for new life-forms. Attempting to achieve a task assigned by the scientists, the computer would, over and over, reassemble a few hundred simulated cells into myriad forms and body shapes. The more successful simulated organisms were kept and refined, while failed designs were tossed out.

From University of Vermont
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