center for systems

& synthetic biology

an NIGMS national systems biology center


Kilobots at the Cal Academy!

March 26, 2015

As part of the California Academy of Science's Nightlife event "Robots", the Center took our swarm of Kilobots to show off biologically inspired robots.


Our exhibit featured robots of different scales. People are generally familiar with pop culture robots that are on our size and scale -- but what about smaller robots? We demonstrated the Kilobots, which measure less than 2 inches tall, as a type of social robot that works in a community to make decisions. We can program these robots to perform a variety of behaviors which we observe in nature and natural systems, such as cell sorting in tissue development or cell polarization!


We also talked about much smaller "robots" - engineered immune cells called T cells that specifically target and attack cancer cells. And going down even smaller, we had UCSF nanotechnology expert Shawn Douglas talk about nanobots -- piece of structural DNA that can perform particular tasks.


The event was sold out to 3500 attendees. The team of volunteers who ran our exhibit, including collaborators at Mesoscope@UCSF, talked to hundreds of robot enthusiasts throughout the night, and inspired a few to reach back to high school biology and get excited about science again! We hope this new partnership with the Cal Academy flourishes, and we have plans to return again with another temporary exhibit later in the year.