The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 53: 869 - 881 (2009)

Vol 53, Issue 5-6

Special Issue: Pattern Formation

Regenerative patterning in Swarm Robots: mutual benefits of research in robotics and stem cell biology

Review | Published: 3 June 2009

Michael Rubenstein1, Ying Sai2, Cheng-Ming Chuong3 and Wei-Min Shen*,1

1Information Sciences Institute and Computer Science Department, University of Southern California, 2Department of Computer and Information Systems, Loyola Marymount University and 3Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, CA, USA


This paper presents a novel perspective of Robotic Stem Cells (RSCs), defined as the basic non-biological elements with stem cell like properties that can self-reorganize to repair damage to their swarming organization. “Self” here means that the elements can autonomously decide and execute their actions without requiring any preset triggers, commands, or help from external sources. We develop this concept for two purposes. One is to develop a new theory for self-organization and self-assembly of multi-robots systems that can detect and recover from unforeseen errors or attacks. This self-healing and self-regeneration is used to minimize the compromise of overall function for the robot team. The other is to decipher the basic algorithms of regenerative behaviors in multi-cellular animal models, so that we can understand the fundamental principles used in the regeneration of biological systems. RSCs are envisioned to be basic building elements for future systems that are capable of self-organization, self-assembly, self-healing and self-regeneration. We first discuss the essential features of biological stem cells for such a purpose, and then propose the functional requirements of robotic stem cells with properties equivalent to gene controller, program selector and executor. We show that RSCs are a novel robotic model for scalable self-organization and self-healing in computer simulations and physical implementation. As our understanding of stem cells advances, we expect that future robots will be more versatile, resilient and complex, and such new robotic systems may also demand and inspire new knowledge from stem cell biology and related fields, such as artificial intelligence and tissue engineering.


robot team, self-reconfiguration, regeneration, tissue engineering, self-organization, self-healing, morphallaxis, wound healing, morphogenesis, pattern formation, multi-agent systems

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