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Biotech

Robotic Mold 118

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the he-slimed-me dept.
Canis Lupus writes to mention that researchers from the University of West England are designing the world's first biological robot, constructed from mold. The robot, "Plasmobot," will be created using vegetative slime mold called plasmodium (Physarum polycephalum) that is commonly found in forests, gardens, and most damp places in the UK. "This new plasmodium robot, called plasmobot, will sense objects, span them in the shortest and best way possible, and transport tiny objects along pre-programmed directions. The robots will have parallel inputs and outputs, a network of sensors and the number crunching power of super computers. The plasmobot will be controlled by spatial gradients of light, electro-magnetic fields and the characteristics of the substrate on which it is placed. It will be a fully controllable and programmable amorphous intelligent robot with an embedded massively parallel computer."
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Robotic Mold

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  • by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:31PM (#29264189) Homepage
    ... is amazing [sciencedaily.com]! Kinda looks like my son took 2 of his matchbox cars and drove them thru his dinner plate. :-P
  • by captaindomon (870655) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:31PM (#29264191)
    "...number crunching power of super computers... It will be a fully controllable and programmable amorphous intelligent robot with an embedded massively parallel computer." I don't think that means what you think it means...
    • Seriously sounds legit to me. From TFA:

      It propagates and searches for sources of nutrients and when it finds such sources it branches out in a series of veins of protoplasm. The plasmodium is capable of solving complex computational tasks, such as the shortest path between points and other logical calculations

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So, how is this different from putting some mold on or near a bunch of moldfood and letting it work its magic?
        • by PotatoFarmer (1250696) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:03PM (#29265525)
          I don't know about you, but we've tried our own implementation of this phenomenon in our office fridge, and haven't gotten any good computational output. Sure, the General Tso's Chicken came up with a fairly solid quicksort implementation, but that Greenish Liquid That May or May Not Have Been a Salad At One Time still hasn't figured out basic pointer arithmetic, much less decent memory management.
          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Sure, the General Tso's Chicken came up with a fairly solid quicksort implementation

            "Kill em all, let the ancestors sort 'em out"?

            I like it. O(n) and easily executed in parallel. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Nigel Stepp (446)

          It's not really much different from that, which is exactly why it is interesting! Natural phenomena solve some of the hardest problems in computation, just by doing what they normally do.

          The trick is controlling that process to get it to solve things we are interested in.

  • ...am completely grossed out.
    • Umm... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by coolsteve (1582557)
      From the article:

      This mould, or plasmodium, is a naturally occurring substance with its own embedded intelligence. It propagates and searches for sources of nutrients and when it finds such sources it branches out in a series of veins of protoplasm.

      Does this worry anyone else?

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        Two words: Trapper Keeper.

      • Re:Umm... (Score:4, Informative)

        by blackraven14250 (902843) * on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:17PM (#29264899)
        No, this sounds like it's a normal mold.
        • Re:Umm... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:56PM (#29265435) Journal

          Yeah. Sounds about as interesting as using sunflower heads to keep solar cells pointed at the sun. Sure, you can probably do it, but does it accomplish anything practically?

          I.e., tell me when they've done something interesting. In the meantime, they're just watching mold do what mold normally does.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by pthisis (27352)

          No, this sounds like it's a normal mold.

          Nope, normal molds are fungi. Slime molds aren't molds at all. They used to be considered in the now-defunct Protist kingdom, but that's not a monophyletic grouping, so it's been split up into several different kingdoms (although the exact classification is still the subject of some debate).

          The most popular current taxonomy puts slime molds into several kingdoms, with plasmodial slime molds (the case at hand) in the kingdom Amoebozoa alongside amoebas (among others)

    • I, for one, welcome our new smelly, slimy, moldy robotic overlords....ewww....

  • Now that is funny! British wit at its best.
  • And? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:36PM (#29264283)
    And what exactly do they intend to use it for? Does this have any practical applications where it would be superior to an inorganic robot that isn't at risk of being eaten by the first moderately complex organism that thinks mold looks tasty?
    • Re:And? (Score:5, Funny)

      by oldspewey (1303305) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:38PM (#29264313)
      Rest assured, your Dungeon Master will come up with something interesting.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tacarat (696339)
        You're sitting in a bar. The vid screen is barely audible over the sounds of the loud patrons hammering back their brews and celebrating the end of the day and beginning of the night. With some effort, you tune your cybernetic hearing enhancement to hear the newscaster.

        "Hackers used banned mould robots to conquer cheese factories in Wisconsin and France. News at Eleven.

        Looking down, the plate of nachos you ordered suddenly doesn't look so appealing. It looks less appealing as it leaps up from the
        • by Abstrackt (609015)
          Crap, I rolled a 1....
          • by tacarat (696339)
            /roll/
            Ok then. Everybody looks around as you begin choking on cyber-hacked cheddar cheese. Somebody has the sense of mind to come behind you and start giving you the Heimlich maneuver.

            /rolls again/

            Corn chip shrapnel sprays out of your mouth and onto the crowd. Disgusted patrons glare at you as they wipe the hacked orange cheese goo from their faces.

            /lots of dice/

            Abstrackt. Please roll to save versus hacked cheese mind control. And you might want to pray that the leather clad bald guy coming
            • /lots of dice/

              All time best way to speed up a conversation and get the PCs moving: roll a bunch of dice and start scribbling on a sheet of paper, followed by "so are you guys still standing there under that tree?"

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          Roll for initiative, please.

          Man, if there's ever a situation where I'd be okay with the GM assuming I'm caught off guard, it's when my own plate of nachos leaps up and attacks my face. The only way I could be more surprised would be if the Long Island Ice Tea I bought tried to sober me up.

      • Mmmmm....delicious cave mold [thottbot.com]!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pla (258480)
      And what exactly do they intend to use it for?

      Nice and simple answer to that FTA: "Researchers have received a Leverhulme Trust grant worth £228,000 to develop the amorphous non-silicon biological robot".

      At the risk of getting modded "redundant", this really doesn't sound like much of a "discovery", much less a "robot". At best, IF they came up with a novel way to arrange food around it to solve NP-complete problems, you could call it a type of massively parallel processor. Possibly, with a rea
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by neonsignal (890658)
      Hmmm, this tastes like slime mold juice.
  • Not Really a Robot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Garrett Fox (970174) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:37PM (#29264297) Homepage
    The article explains what's meant by saying that the "robot" will compute: "Most people's idea of a computer is a piece of hardware with software designed to carry out specific tasks. This mould, or plasmodium, is a naturally occurring substance with its own embedded intelligence. It propagates and searches for sources of nutrients and when it finds such sources it branches out in a series of veins of protoplasm. The plasmodium is capable of solving complex computational tasks, such as the shortest path between points and other logical calculations. Through previous experiments we have already demonstrated the ability of this mould to transport objects. By feeding it oat flakes, it grows tubes which oscillate and make it move in a certain direction carrying objects with it. We can also use light or chemical stimuli to make it grow in a certain direction."

    That's like saying that the bamboo plant on my desk is a robot. It, too, transports substances in a direction determined by light input, and computes the optimal direction for approaching a light source. I could even claim that I'm adding "logic gates" to it by covering or pruning certain leaves.

    Says the article, the mold robot has "the number crunching power of super computers" because it carries out computing tasks. That claim is also pretty silly. The A* algorithm can find the shortest distance between paths, and it doesn't require anything that could be called a supercomputer today.

    So, this thing is a "robot" in the sense that pointing at random objects and calling yourself a master of "found art" is art.
    • by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:48PM (#29264459)
      Exactly. In fact, plasmodium does not compute optimal distances, it has no senses to detect objects at a distance. It detects chemical concentration gradients and moves to or from higher concentrations of chemicals it likes or dislikes. It does not compute. In fact, if you've ever seen one move, it wriggles around a lot. It has to, in order to detect its immediate environment.

      What is the point of this article?
      • by tacarat (696339)
        To inspire researchers. If somebody will fund that, you can find somebody to fund your beer pyramid project if you polish the proposal enough.
      • by Tolkien (664315)

        By your description it sounds like this would be the beginnings of some sort of primordial ooze, if it weren't for us messing with it.

      • Sounds like the Random Walk [wikipedia.org]. Which isn't to far from my Post-JÃgermeister dancing style.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by bmacs27 (1314285)
        Actually that isn't entirely true.

        Nakagaki et. al. [nature.com]

        While I agree that it follows concentration gradients... one could say the same thing about your own nervous system. Then we get back to "what exactly do we mean by intelligence?"

        From the abstract:

        "The plasmodium of the slime mould Physarum polycephalum is a large amoeba-like cell consisting of a dendritic network of tube-like structures (pseudopodia). It changes its shape as it crawls over a plain agar gel and, if food is placed at two differen
      • by khakipuce (625944)
        It's that time of year - University Clearing, all the minor universities in the UK are trying to get their names in the media so that potential students who didn't get into a major university may pick them instead of a gap year.
      • This article details exactly how the creators were able to swindle some investors out of £200,000 by using big computer words to describe common mold.

    • by cstacy (534252)

      The article explains what's meant by saying that the "robot" will compute..."
      So, this thing is a "robot" in the sense that pointing at random objects and calling yourself a master of "found art" is art.

      The real test is whether the entire AI can be implemented in a single Twitter.

      • by mikiN (75494)

        "To tweet or not to tweet, that's the question. I tweet therefore I am, so I am part of a question looking for an answer: to assert myself."

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:37PM (#29264299) Homepage Journal
    The previous attemp contained in papers stored in the head, using hebrew text as programming language.
  • >"It will be a fully controllable"

    >"and programmable amorphous intelligent robot with an embedded massively parallel computer."

    Now see, it's that bit, the bit about it being fully controllable that makes me nervous. Why did they feel the need to put that bit in. Slimy mold; intelligent, massively parallel processing robot... fully controllable, yes but by whom and for how long.

  • All is well and good until it develops AI and we bow before it. I figured technology would get us eventually but, and I must admit, yielding to our new mold masters was not what I had in mind. You will become one with the slime!!!
  • Real Research (Score:3, Informative)

    by beringreenbear (949867) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:40PM (#29264341) Journal
    Adamatzky I'm already familiar with, citing his Chemical Computer [wikipedia.org] in a senior paper to finish my CS degree. This is no more crazy than using electrostatic foam to compute. [indiana.edu]
  • Allergies! (Score:2, Funny)

    by smallshot (1202439)
    Great, now I'll be allergic to my electronics too. Nature I can escape, but mold in my computer??
  • Will Old Glory Insurance provide a policy for this new menace?

    In the meantime, I am putting my medicine under lock and key!

  • this is just another article about someone getting research money.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Why is it lately that every time there's any slashdot story about any research whatever, somebody has to pipe in that it's "just another article about someone getting research money"?

      What's the matter, can't get your project funded?

  • Stock up on liquid nitrogen and multiple hand-held fire extinguishers for inevitable fight with the blob.
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:49PM (#29264481) Homepage Journal

    Bite my slimey moldy ass!

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:50PM (#29264489) Journal

    From an unlikely source: PubMed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez [nih.gov]

    Search terms "plasmodium Physarum polycephalum"

    I went looking for negative stuff, knowing plasmodiums were behind malaria. Couldn't find any for this stuff, but I did find some juicy bits from biomedical science regarding its computational ability, or rather its internal processes that can be used as such. Not many will be able to get the referenced material, but just the abstracts are tasty.

    • by Archaemic (1546639) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:57PM (#29264593)

      The plasmodium behind malaria is not the same kind of plasmodium. IIRC, malaria is caused by a sporozoan, which is completely different from a slime mould. In fact, plasmodium is not even a kind of slime mould. In reference to slime moulds, plasmodium is just the macroscopic form of any slime mould.

      • by reverseengineer (580922) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:09PM (#29264793)
        Yeah, the reason slime molds are referred to as plasmodium is because the slime mold colony lacks defined cell walls or membranes between what would normally be considered individual cells. The mold can essentially be thought of as a single cell with many nuclei, since cytoplasm is continous throughout the entire colony. As the parent notes, this type of structure (a lifecycle stage, really) has nothing to do with the protozoa which cause malaria, which just happen to be of genus Plasmodium.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pthisis (27352)

        In reference to slime moulds, plasmodium is just the macroscopic form of any slime mould.

        Not _any_ slime mold. Plasmodial slime molds are one small grouping of slime molds.

        Dictyostelids, for instance, are unicellular slime molds. Plasmodiums have many (often millions) nuclei in one cell membrane. Dictyostelids maintain cellular structure--their macroscopic form is not a plasmodium, though they do form a "pseudoplasmodium" that kind of looks like a plasmodium.

        And that's just the plasmodials and the dictyo

  • Fooker, is that you?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In his Ware Trilogy

  • How do you put a "Shoggoth" tag onto a story? This sounds like something straight out of "At the Mountains of Madness".

  • Meh (Score:3, Funny)

    by uberjack (1311219) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:04PM (#29264713)
    This plasmodium doesn't hold a candle to my plasmondilium [wikipedia.org]
  • Saw a talk on this last year from some guys at Southampton who'd already done it: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biosystems.2006.09.016 [doi.org] Zauner is on a Microsoft Research fellowship though, so no doubt Slashdotters won't like it ;)
  • I'm rich!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Perp Atuitie (919967) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:16PM (#29264893)
    My bathroom has enough slime and mold to corner the market with. I knew I was keeping it for something big.
  • by hyades1 (1149581)

    Is it appropriate to lichen this bizarre construction to a robot? And I have to wonder whether it would be constructed from custom built components, or would they would have to come from a mold.

    • by Comboman (895500)
      Those puns are great. You must be a real fun-guy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hyades1 (1149581)

        In spite of what some sour little "toad's tool" with mod points and a lack of morels seems to believe, Slashdot always has shroom for a little humour.

        • by mikiN (75494)

          There is mush room for humour on slashdot, but sadly, some don't give a pig's ear. Others have missed their chance or blewit. Mods who can't take it are just arrogant puffballs.

  • This sounds like the makings of a great Sci-Fi flick. Oh wait, I think it was recently just done [hulu.com],... Or maybe that was just a SyFy flick, so it really doesn't count,...
    • by clam666 (1178429)

      Apparently you didn't bother to watch Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. When the mold can jump up and eat a plane at 30,000 feet I'll be more concerned.

  • April 1 at the end of August? Misuse a word and call it newsworthy?

  • ObNethack (Score:5, Funny)

    by HonestButCurious (1306021) on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:18PM (#29264943) Journal
    .........
    ..@F.....
    .........
    You hit the brown mold.  You are suddenly very cold!
  • by MadFarmAnimalz (460972) * on Monday August 31, 2009 @03:29PM (#29265097) Homepage

    or moldy loaf of sliced bread? You decide!

  • Does this mean I can legitimately claim that the mould on my bathroom walls counts as advanced technology? Awesome!

  • Is it April Fool's Day in England? Perhaps something lost in the translation?
  • Is this a robot or a cyborg? Sounds more like cybernetic gray goo to me. Who knew it would literally be gray goo?
  • Just so long as it's not used to create a nanovirus that infects people with creativity-enhancing Tourette's syndrome, I think we're OK.

  • Professor Andy Adamatzky has published a number of papers on plasmodium computing. See his web page at UWE Bristol:

    http://uncomp.uwe.ac.uk/adamatzky/

    and the video complimentary material for the article "Physarum boats: If plasmodium sailed it would never leave a port" at:

    http://uncomp.uwe.ac.uk/adamatzky/physarumboat/

    The video requires a Intel Indeo 5 decoder plugin.

  • I came here to see if there was a greygoo tag. I was not disappointed.
  • "It might also be possible for thousands of tiny computers made of plasmodia to live on our skin and carry out routine tasks freeing up our brain for other things." - In the future we will all be covered in slime, is this human evolution? A time may come when bathing goes out of style in order to accumulate more processing power..
    • "It might also be possible for thousands of tiny computers made of plasmodia to live on our skin and carry out routine tasks freeing up our brain for other things." - In the future we will all be covered in slime, is this human evolution? A time may come when bathing goes out of style in order to accumulate more processing power..

      And they call me a disgusting slob for not bathing. I am just way ahead of my time.

  • By placing a wire cage around my tomato plant I can alter the direction that the plant grows in making it capable of determining the fast route to the sun and moving small objects of my desire. The plant is able to grow, and can even transform carbon dioxide into oxygen! I call it tomatobot and I expect the government to give me a $500k grant to work on further development.
  • You know...this article would make a great basis for rebooting the movie "The Blob"
  • and see if this will happen: from TFA: "It might also be possible for thousands of tiny computers made of plasmodia to live on our skin and carry out routine tasks freeing up our brain for other things." Enter the reign of the moldborgs.
  • I see absolutely no chance of this going wrong. Perhaps they could send it out after all the kudzu... My god, men, think of what you're doing!!! :p
  • DO NOT TAUNT PLASMOBOT

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