A team of scientists have created "living robots" made up of skin and heart cells from frogs using a supercomputer. Yes, you read that correctly.
Scientists at the University of Vermont and Tufts University are calling their invention "xenobots," according to The Guardian. The extremely tiny xenobots are made from the cells of frog embryos. They're separated, incubated and rebuilt.
Scientists hope that the xenobots will have a host of different uses, from clearing plaque from human arteries to cleaning the ocean floors of microplastics. "We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can't do," Michael Levin, who co-lead work on the project, said in a statement, "like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque."
While it sounds like something from far into the future, these xenobots aren't quite what most people think of when they think of robots. They're living machines, the scientists stress.
"These are novel living machines," Joshua Bongard, co-leader of the project and robotics expert at the University of Vermont, said. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It's a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."
The idea of living machines might scare people — a point the scientists wholly acknowledge.
"That fear is not unreasonable," Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, said. "When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don't understand, we're going to get unintended consequences." But the scientists say that this work is critical so that they have a better understanding of how complex systems function.