Researchers Create First Living Robots

These are entirely new lifeforms. Also, Spider-Man grippers and a camera that photographs the invisible.

Friendly Neighborhood Vacuum Grippers

Researchers from the American Institute of Physics in Maryland have designed vacuum suction cups that allow man and robot to defy gravity and climb walls, even if they are scaling a rough surface. 

Previous vacuum grippers couldn't maintain suction on rough surfaces because of leakage. The researchers use a zero-pressure difference (ZPD) method that uses a high-speed rotating water ring between the surface and suction cup to maintain the vacuum. 

The grippers have potential in many industrial applications, but what we really want to know is if we can use them to scale the Washington Monument. 

The researchers tested three different suction sizes and applications: 

  • A robotic arm that grips and handles objects
  • A hexapod wall-climbing robot
  • A Spider-Man-like wall-climbing device with footholds dangling from cups. 

The researchers call them Spider-Man-style grippers, but as you can see from the video, they aren't scaling walls as quickly as your friendly neighborhood web-slinger. (Maybe the geriatric version from Reign.) 

Camera Captures 1 Trillion Frames Per Second

Last year, Caltech researcher Lihong Wang created the world's fastest camera. It takes 10 trillion pictures in a second and can capture light traveling in slow motion. 

Now, Wang and a team of researchers have created a new camera. This one only takes 1 trillion photos per second, but it can take pictures of the invincible.

In recent tests, the camera captured a shockwave created when a laser struck the water, and a pulse of laser light traveling through a crystal. 

Wang calls it phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography (pCUP), and it's a combination of his previous camera and phase-contrast microscopy, a 100-year-old technology that images how light waves slow down and speed up when entering and leaving materials. 

The technology is still in development, but it has potential in biology and chemistry, among other fields. 

Wang hopes that one day, he can harness the technology to watch as signals travel through a network of neurons or flames spread in a combustion chamber.

Robots Built with Frog Cells

This next one comes to us from Chuck in South Carolina, who emailed us this story with a single sentence: I'm not sure if this is a good thing. 

A team of researchers from Tuft University has used frog stem cells to create "entirely new lifeforms." According to the researchers, these are the first living robots. 

A report from the Guardian, via Futurism, says that the xenobots are only a millimeter-wide and created by re-assembling skin and heart cells harvested from African clawed frog embryos. 

The skin cells are passive, and the heart cells expand and contract to propel the xenobots. An algorithm configures the xenobots shape for a specific task. For example, it can build a form designed to move forward or include a spot for microscopic storage. 

Because they are biological material, the xenobots can heal themselves, and after completing an assigned task, they can be programmed to self-destruct. Right now, the xenobots live for about ten days, but unlike metal or plastic counterparts, they're incredibly biodegradable. 

Next, the team is discussing adding additional senses and other capabilities, even eyes. Like previous nanobots designed before them, they hope the xenobots could one day clear human arteries, clean up the oceans, or remove radioactive waste. 

Darpa funded the research.

If you're worried about the robot apocalypse, you can calm down. A student on the project told the Guardian, "it’s hard to fear that these things are taking over any time soon.” What do you mean soon? 

You know what Chuck, I’m not sure this is a good thing either. 

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