Technological developments have come so far in the 21st century that for some time now it's been looking plausible that robots will take on many roles in civilized life currently attributed to humans. But it's appeared pretty unlikely that robots would ever be able to perform traditional bodily functions like eating, shitting and bleeding.
But as usual with reading left-field news articles, forget what you know or think you know.
In both a tremendous and uncanny science feat, scientists have constructed a robot that has real-life periods. Recreating a vagina, uterus, cervix, liver and fallopian tubes with legit human tissue, the researchers formed a reproductive system inside a box.
Shaped like a cube, the robotic model named Evatar ('Eve' and 'avatar', clever) contains tiny 3D models and tubes of each part of the female reproductive system each laden with cells.
Described in a new study published in Nature Communications, the researchers unveil that the tubes in the system pump fluid that acts like blood and feeds the various cells, resulting in the mini-organs "communicating" with each other – just like a real reproductive system.
Evatar can even stay up and running with the cells alive for a full 28-day menstrual cycle, which could mean astounding things for female medicine and healthcare.
When it comes to contraceptive methods like the pill, implant and coil, there is a dark side. Research and safety measures are lacking, contributing to mental health problems among a vast number of pill-taking women and girls. And yet, Evatar could change things monumentally.
The machine will make it far easier for researchers to study health conditions such as endometriosis as well as providing a physical replica for studies on almost anything related to the reproductive system. Could this mean better contraception? Possibly, but the authors stress that something that works in the lab doesn't necessarily work on real, living humans.
Vivek Gupta, a professor of pharmacy at St. John’s University, who is clued up on the case but didn't help with the study, said:
“They all look good with human tissues grown on plates, but a lot of stuff works in vitro and then, when it comes to animals, fails. There should definitely be in vitro studies and microfluidics, but now let’s see how it correlates to an animal model.”
However, the team behind Evatar – who also plan on making a male version – could help pharmaceutical companies test new drugs on the Frankenstein-like invention for safety and effectiveness. This, ultimately, could change the future.
Now on to the grumbling feminist take on period-having robots. While the feat brings science ~one step closer~ to creating robots that are just like us and all that, there are obvious ethical issues at play here.
Firstly is the obvious concern that a robot will never have to buy its own tampons, which as we all know come with a 5% VAT, due to their 'luxury item' classification. And yet, human women do. How is it fair that a factory-manufactured bit of kit gets its tampons provided I assume by researchers, while living, breathing vulva-havers fork out £16k on period-related items throughout their lives?
The robot also opens up a whole can of wormy questions regarding gender – does having periods make someone female? We know that some trans men have periods. But bleeding robots? Will we subscribe our own ideas of gender to it? What if it wants to have the coil implanted and not have periods? What if it is actually more masculine than feminine? What will society do then? Are we allowed to assume a robot's gender?