Questions for ‘Robots made of cells blur the line between creature and machine’

an illustration of a "biohybrid robot" a green motor neuron cell blob on top of a wishbone shaped skeleton. The neuron connects to muscle tissue around the neck of the wishbone, so the legs can act as pinchers and create a swimming motion. The whole robot is encased in a clear covering.

Engineers in Illinois have designed a “biohybrid” robot, illustrated here. Cells called motor neurons (green) trigger muscle tissue (red) to contract, closing the robot’s pinchers and allowing it to swim.

Graphic courtesy Michael Vincent

To accompany ‘Robots made of cells blur the line between creature and machine


Before Reading:

  1. Research the definition of “robot” and the definition of “organism.” How do these two things differ? Could something be a robot and an organism at the same time?
  2. Have you seen any examples of robots before? What types of materials were those machines made out of?

During Reading:

  1. What types of feats can “xenobots” perform?
  2. What are some reasons to build robots using living cells?
  3. What jobs could robots built out of living cells do?
  4. What inspired Doug Blackiston to build xenobots?
  5. How did Blackiston’s team build its xenobots? What types of materials did they use?
  6. What types of “biohybrid” robots has Rashid Bashir’s group built? What materials have they used?
  7. According to Ritu Raman, in addition to being able to move, what other behaviors could living robots exhibit?
  8. What challenges do engineers face in building robots with living cells?

After Reading:

  1. Do you think robots built out of live cells count as living things? Explain why or why not.
  2. What potential risks or ethical questions emerge as robots become more and more lifelike?