Forget gleaming metal droids — the robots of the future may have more in common with the average amphibian than with R2D2.
A team of scientists have found a way to not just program a living organism, but to build brand new life-forms from scratch using cells, creating what researchers are calling “xenobots.”
Tiny in size, but vast in potential, these millimetre-sized bots could potentially be programmed to help in medical procedures, ocean cleanup and investigating dangerous compounds, among other things.
“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal,” said researcher Joshua Bongard in a news release. “It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
In the introduction for the research published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS) on Monday, researchers point out that the traditional building blocks we’ve used for robots and tech — steel, plastic, chemicals, etc. — all “degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side-effects.”
After realizing that the best “self-renewing and biocompatible materials” would be “living systems themselves,” researchers decided to create a method “that designs completely biological machines from the ground up.”
The bots are made out of stem cells taken from frog embryos — specifically, an African clawed frog called “xenopus laevis,” which supplied the inspiration for the name “xenobot.” To design the xenobots, the possible configurations of different cells were first modeled on a supercomputer at the University of Vermont.
The designs then went to Tufts University, where the embryonic cells were collected and separated to develop into more specialized cells. Then, like sculptors (if sculptors used microsurgery forceps and electrodes), biologists manually shaped the cells into clumps that matched the computer designs.
Different structures were sketched out by the computer in accordance with the scientists’ goal for each xenobot.
For example, one xenobot was designed to be able to move purposely in a specific direction. To achieve this, researchers put cardiac cells on the bottom of the xenobot. These cells naturally contract and expand on their own, meaning that they could serve as the xenobots’ engine, or legs, and help move the rest of the organism, which was built out of more static skin cells.
In order to test if the living robots were truly moving the way they were designed to, and not just randomly, researchers performed a test that has stumped many a living creature.
They flipped the robot on its back. And just like a capsized turtle, it could no longer move.
When researchers created further designs for the bots, they found that they could design them to push microscopic objects, and even carry objects through a pouch.
“It’s a step toward using computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery,” says Bongard.
The possible uses for these tiny robots are numerous, researchers say.
“In biomedical settings, one could envision such biobots (made from the patient’s own cells) removing plaque from artery walls, identifying cancer, or settling down to differentiate or control events in locations of disease,” the research paper suggests.
A robot made out of metal or steel generally has to be repaired by human hands if it sustains damage. One major benefit that researchers found of creating these robots out of living cells was how they reacted to physical damage.
A video taken by the researchers showed that when one of their organisms was cut almost in half by metal tweezers, the two sides of the wound simply stitched itself back together.
These living robots, researchers realized, could repair themselves automatically, “something you can’t do with typical machines,” Bongard said.
Because they are living cells, they are also naturally biodegradable, Bongard pointed out. Once they’ve fulfilled their purpose, “they’re just dead skin cells,” making them even more optimal for usage in medical or environmental research.
Although scientists have been increasingly manipulating genetics and biology, this is the first time that a programmable organism has been created from scratch, researchers say.
This new research takes scientists a step closer to answering just how different cells work together to execute all of the complex processes that occur every day in animals and humans.
“The big question in biology is to understand the algorithms that determine form and function,” said co-leader Michael Levin in the press release. He directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts.
“What actually determines the anatomy towards which cells co-operate?” he asked. “You look at the cells we’ve been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It’s 100 per cent frog DNA — but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building? As we’ve shown, these frog cells can be coaxed to make interesting living forms that are completely different from what their default anatomy would be.”
Of course, a biological organism created and programmed by humans which is capable of healing itself might sound a little alarming. After all, one of the sponsors of the research is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is affiliated with the U.S. military.
Researchers acknowledged in the press release that the implications around such technological and biological advancements can be worrying at times.
“That fear is not unreasonable,” Levin said. However, he believes that in order to move forward with science, we should not hold back from complex questions. “This study is a direct contribution to getting a handle on what people are afraid of, which is unintended consequences.
“I think it’s an absolute necessity for society going forward to get a better handle on systems where the outcome is very complex,” Levin says. “A first step towards doing that is to explore: how do living systems decide what an overall behavior should be and how do we manipulate the pieces to get the behaviors we want?”
SpaceX launch: live stream, liftoff video replay, and what's happening now – TechRadar India
3pm EDT SpaceX update: New SpaceX launch video and video replays have been added embedded via YouTube and Twitter below, so you can rewatch the highlights, from liftoff on the Dragon Endeavor to docking with the International Space Station. Next up is a post-arrival news conference at the Johnson Space Center at 3:15pm EDT.
1:47pm EDT update: The live stream video just showed the Dragon Endeavor crew being greeted by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, NASA Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer, US Senator Ted Cruz, and US Representative Brian Babin on a video call from Mission Control in Houston, Texas.
1:30pm EDT update: The two NASA astronauts who went up on the SpaceX Dragon capsule yesterday have joined three other astronauts on the ISS (International Space Station): American Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
1pmEDT update: The hatch is now open (as of 1:02pm EDT on March 31), meaning the hatch between the SpaceX Dragon capsule and the ISS is open and the two NASA astronauts can float through the International Space Station.
The live stream continues below via a YouTube video, and it’s happening after the two astronauts established pressure equalization in SpaceX Dragon capsule.
The SpaceX hatch is opening a little more than two hours after docking with the ISS. The SpaceX Dragon docking with the ISS was a success and happened autonomously, at first with a soft capture, then there were 12 latches around the docking ring that created a pressure-tight seal. An umbilical cord was then deployed to link the SpaceX Dragon and the ISS to share power and data – think of it has a giant USB-C cable in space.
It took a total of 19 hours for the SpaceX Dragon capsule to navigate to the ISS for docking on Sunday, following a successful SpaceX launch live stream. You can see a video replay of the liftoff below, along with four other can’t-miss highlight videos.
SpaceX live stream video
Here’s where you’re able to watch the NASA astronauts float around in space board the SpaceX Dragon capsule. The live stream commentary has been brilliant, insightful and inspiring regarding the future of commercial space travel.
SpaceX video: see the NASA astronauts arrive at ISS
For the first time, NASA astronauts arrived at the International Space Station from a commercially-made spacecraft. Watch Doug and Bob join three other astronauts from the Dragon Endeavor (what they named their capsule after the launch).
This is the first time in human history @NASA_Astronauts have entered the @Space_Station from a commercially-made spacecraft. @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug have finally arrived to the orbiting laboratory in @SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft. pic.twitter.com/3t9Ogtpik4May 31, 2020
SpaceX hatch opening video replay
The SpaceX hatch opened at 12:45pm EDT, a little more than two hours after the Dragon capsule first linked up with the ISS. NASA astronauts equalized the pressure between the two spacecrafts so that they could move to the ISS.
They made it. After launching from @NASAKennedy on the @SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft yesterday, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug have officially joined the @Space_Station crew today at 1:02pm ET — making history in the process. pic.twitter.com/A7oExw0SlDMay 31, 2020
SpaceX docking with ISS video replay
You can see the ISS docking in this video below. It shows the SpaceX Dragon and ISS linking up in what’s called a ‘soft capture’. It happened autonomously, and then a set a 12 latches or hooks create a pressurized seal so that the two crafts orbit together.
This particular SpaceX video is of the more visually-pleasing soft capture (there’s no good video vantage point for the more internalized hard capture with latches).
Docking confirmed – Crew Dragon has arrived at the @space_station! pic.twitter.com/KiKBpZ8R2HMay 31, 2020
SpaceX toy dinosaur floating in zero gravity
You can’t buy the “Ty Flippable Tremor The Aqua/Pink Sequin Dinosaur” on Amazon anymore. It’s sold out after it was seen floating in space. The NASA astronauts took it onboard for their kids to see it experience zero gravity.
Two humans (and one dinosaur) went to space today #SpaceX pic.twitter.com/U4CbHJShkwMay 30, 2020
Best SpaceX video replays
All of the important SpaceX video replays are below, from launch to right now.
Both SpaceX and NASA are providing a bunch of footage – both live video and video replays – to capture this space mission. Here are the best videos to check out.
1. SpaceX launch video replay – see the liftoff again
Liftoff happened at 3:22pm EDT Saturday, and it was spectacular, especially after a nine-year hiatus for NASA launches on US soil. You can rewatch the launch again.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/DRBfdUM7JAMay 30, 2020
2. SpaceX Falcon 9 booster returns to Earth
Just beyond the T-0 countdown, we saw the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster return to Earth – and land successfully. Having a reusable rocket is a huge milestone for the future of space travel when it comes to cost.
Commentators on the SpaceX live stream compared the Space Shuttle era rockets falling into the ocean (and being scrapped) as throwing away an airplane engine every time a plane pulled into an airport gate. It’s a great analogy to explain why what SpaceX pulled off on Saturday was a huge deal for space exploration.
Falcon 9 booster has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship! pic.twitter.com/96Nd3vsrT2May 30, 2020
3. Falcon 9 second stage separates from Dragon capsule
Here’s some great footage of the Falcon 9 second stage rocket separating from the Dragon Capsule and falling back to Earth.
Crew Dragon has separated from Falcon 9’s second stage and is on its way to the International Space Station with @Astro_Behnken and @AstroDoug! Autonomous docking at the @Space_Station will occur at ~10:30 a.m. EDT tomorrow, May 31 pic.twitter.com/bSZ6yZP2bDMay 30, 2020
4. NASA astronauts’ first video transmission
Right now, NASA astronauts are above Earth in the SpaceX-made Dragon capsule as you read this (they’ll be up there for 19 hours), and they’re wearing SpaceX-designed spacesuits. The US government’s Space Shuttle program ended nine years ago and the private SpaceX has picked up where NASA left off. It’s a giant step for space exploration.
Amazing. 🚀 https://t.co/hamiC8PDqZMay 30, 2020
5. Live views of the SpaceX Dragon orbiting the Earth
The SpaceX cameras were able to capture some amazing live views of Earth as the Dragon capsule orbited the planet on its way to dock with the ISS. Here’s a short clip of exactly that.
Tune in to hear @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug on Crew Dragon and for live views of Earth → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK pic.twitter.com/P5nxAyAJFnMay 31, 2020
The first hours of Saturday’s SpaceX livestream felt like deja vu if you watched the SpaceX live stream Wednesday. But unlike that first launch attempt, Saturday’s launch countdown didn’t stop at T-minus 17 minutes. Instead, history was made.
It wasn’t always clear that Saturday’s launch would happen, even minutes before the launch window. “We are predicting a 50/50 shot of going this time,” said NASA administrator NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine at the top of the SpaceX live stream. “But given the fact that we are in late May – in Florida – we have to take every shot that we can get.” They’re glad that they did, despite the gloomy forecast.
Saturday’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission was a delayed and a second attempt, but it was always going to be historic, as it’s happening at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s the first such launch on US soil in nearly a decade – since NASA retired the Space Shuttle nine years ago. It’s also the first time that a SpaceX reusable spacecraft has sent NASA astronauts into space. It’s the birth of commercially-backed human space travel.
The destination of this SpaceX launch is the International Space Station (ISS) for a one- to four-month duration for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, according to our friends over at Space.com.
SpaceX launch – as it happened on Saturday, May 30
The official Demo-2 SpaceX launch time, Saturday, May 30 at 3:22pm EDT, so the times across the continental US were 2:22pm CDT / 1:22pm MDT / 12:22pm PDT.
The UK SpaceX launch time was 20:22 BST. In addition to tuning into the video live stream, you were able to go outside soon afterward and maybe catch a glimpse of the SpaceX-built spacecraft in the night sky at around 20:40 BST.
In Australia, it was already Sunday morning, with the new launch time occurring at 5:22am AEST.
SpaceX launch weather concerns subsided
Up until the last few minutes of Saturday’s SpaceX launch, weather was a concern. It wouldn’t have been time, as we saw this play out on Wednesday: “The weather got us,” admitted NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine in a somber 30-second Twitter video on Wednesday. “I know there was a lot of disappointment today.”
Bridenstine went on to explain the reasoning behind what we all saw: the SpaceX launch was scrubbed just 17 minutes inside the launch window, with NASA hanging on until the last minutes in an effort to save its efforts. The weather didn’t cooperate.
NASA has strict weather rules for clearing spacecraft launches and noted that three weather violations existed, including the chance of the craft triggering ‘natural lightning’. If they would have been able to wait ten minutes beyond the countdown, they could have cleared those three violations, according to SpaceX and NASA officials.
Waiting even ten minutes wasn’t an option, though. Both Saturday’s successful launch and Wednesday’s scrubbed launch had what’s known as an ‘instantaneous launch window’, meaning due orbital mechanics a delay wasn’t possible if the crew wanted to get to the International Space Station (ISS) on time and lock in accurately. Blame Newtown’s law of universal gravity, if you’d like.
The good news is that everything technical with the SpaceX craft and NASA crew was ‘go for liftoff’ on both days when the hatch door successfully closed. Weather was the only concern, according to NASA during the live streams.
Even with all of the exceptional planning ahead of this SpaceX launch, NASA and SpaceX can’t control the weather (not yet anyway). Florida, while normally sunny, does have frequent quick-moving thunderstorms (anyone who has ever visited nearby Disney World knows that), and that’s what the crew faced Wednesday and most of Saturday until the final half-hour.
.@AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug arrive at historic Launch Complex 39A → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK pic.twitter.com/EZATwbKWfAMay 30, 2020
Another weather variable is the fact that the weather conditions need to be good everywhere this spacecraft might be. For example, if the crew had to abort anywhere along their ascent and come down, recovery crews would need to access the capsule, so it’s more than just the immediate Florida launchpad that needs ideal weather.
What happened before the SpaceX launch
The live stream saw SpaceX founder Elon Musk visit suited-up astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and exchange a few words before liftoff time. Sadly, there was no audio during this portion of the live stream on Wednesday.
Musk then greeted US Vice President Mike Pence, who is there to watch the launch, while President Donald Trump joined soon after. Hurley and Behnken traveled to the launch site in a Tesla Model X (Tesla being another company Musk founded). Both the President and Vice President returned to see the launch Saturday.
The moment @SpaceX founder @elonmusk gives NASA’s @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug the keys to the Dragon 2. #SpaceLaunchLIVE #SpaceXDragon pic.twitter.com/nHb1uCVR9uMay 27, 2020
NASA continued to monitor the weather via data sensors around the launch site in an effort to get everything into ‘the green position’ on their maps. At the time, NASA said, “the weather is trending in the right direction,” but as the countdown got to T-minus 17 minutes, favorability went the other direction.
This meant that the crew was seated in the capsule after crossing the crew access arm, and the crew arm had already retracted. Steam started to come off of the rocket before the launch was called off. It was that close to liftoff.
SpaceX spacecraft, SpaceX suits and NASA astronauts
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which sat atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff. It was situated on a launch pad at legendary Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
LC-39A was originally built for the Apollo missions and remodeled for the Space Shuttle program. Now it’s home to the first space flight to send astronauts into space using a private aerospace company.
Hurley (the spacecraft commander) and Behnken (the joint operations commander) are NASA astronauts, engineers and both former members of US military (Hurley is a former marine, while Behnken was in the US Air Force).
The two-man NASA crew are not only be flying in a SpaceX-built spacecraft, but also outfitted in SpaceX pressurized suits, first shown off in 2017.
Meet Bob And Doug – Best Friends On Historic SpaceX-NASA Mission – NDTV
Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the astronauts set to launch into orbit on a SpaceX rocket Wednesday, are both former military pilots, both recruited by NASA in 2000, and both married to fellow astronauts.
With their crew cuts, cool demeanor, short and precise sentences, they have all the traditional hallmarks of the men of NASA.
Smiling, reasonable, competent, reliable: in other words “The Right Stuff” of the early era of spaceflight.
They met in 2000 when they began their training at the space agency, and have been best friends ever since, said Hurley, 53.
Both of them attended military test pilot school, a well worn path to the astronaut corps.
Behnken, 49, holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.
He signed up for the military during his studies and attended the elite Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
A colonel, he’s flown more than 25 different aircraft, including the F-22 fighter.
Hurley was also a colonel and before joining NASA was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the Marine Corps, a specialist for the F/A~CHECK~18.
Between 2008 and 2011, they both flew two missions, separately, on the Space Shuttle.
In 2015, NASA assigned them their next mission: the first crewed flight of the Crew Dragon, built by SpaceX and initially planned for 2017.
– Dream mission –
“If you gave us one thing that we could have put on our list of dream jobs that we would have gotten to have some day, it would have been to be aboard a new spacecraft and conduct a test mission,” Behnken told reporters when he arrived at the Kennedy Space Center from Houston last week.
It was through the astronaut corps that each of them met their wives, who have also space missions to their credit.
Behnken married Megan McArthur, and they have a six-year-old boy, Theodore.
Doug married Karen Nyberg, and they too have a son, Jack, aged 10.
The bond of friendship that unites the two men is an obvious asset for such a risky mission, where they each might have to take control of the spacecraft that is set to auto pilot by default.
Hurley is the more meticulous, even obsessive, of the two, said Behnken.
“If we have to get useless information, Doug is always the repository for that,” joked Behnken in a video released by NASA.
Hurley himself admitted to being an expert in “obscure procedures.”
As for Behnken, Hurley said his friend thinks of everything ahead of time. “He’s already got it all figured out.”
But he’s no good at bluffing and “doesn’t have a good poker face,” added Hurley.
On Monday, the head of NASA texted the pair to ask one last time: are you sure you want to go ahead?
“They both came back and they said, ‘we’re go for launch,'” said Jim Bridenstine. “So they’re ready to go.”
It’s a moment they’ve been training for the past five years.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
SpaceX and NASA make history with launch – CNN International
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