How Biohybrid Robots Are Bringing The Next Big Revolution In Robotics
Researchers around The World Have Already Started Experimenting In What Is Labelled As The Next Big Thing In Field Of Robotics: Bio-Hybrid Robots
The field of robotics has brought us numerous exciting and innovative applications. These applications not only made our lives easier but also brought automation to accelerate digital transformation. Now scientists are planning to build bio-hybrid robots or cyborgs (cybernetic organism) too; this is for obvious reasons an upgrade from assembly line robot or a bomb diffuser robots. A couple of years back, a team from the University of Tokyo had created the first ‘biohybrid’ robot. It was a robot that moves using live muscle tissue from rats. In scientific parlance, it was a crossover between living tissue and robotics, integrating biohybrid robotics with living muscle tissue grown from the cells of a rat.
As per the research paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the study was undertaken at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science to demonstrate how the researchers can use living tissues, instead of metal and plastic to build robots. To develop the muscle-powered robots, the team first designed a robot skeleton to mount the pair of functioning muscles. This included a rotatable joint, anchors where the muscles could attach and electrodes to provide the stimulus to induce muscle contraction. According to the first author of the study, Yuya Morimoto, “using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger,” something the researchers have demonstrated by picking up and putting down objects with their robotic finger. Even, NASA is working on the development of biohybrid robots to explore other worlds in the Solar System.
Last year, scientists from the University of Illinois developed a swimmer robot with two’ tails’. The team led by Taher Saif, mechanical science and engineering professor and Rashid Bashir, a bioengineering professor at the University of Illinois, had earlier worked on first self-propelled biohybrid swimming and walking bots powered by beating cardiac muscle cells derived from rats. However, it was not able to sense the environment nor make any decisions. This prompted them to develop bots powered by skeletal muscle tissue stimulated by onboard motor neurons. Taher explained that they applied an optogenetic neuron cell culture, derived from mouse stem cells, adjacent to the muscle tissue. Then the neurons advanced towards the muscle and formed neuromuscular junctions, and the swimmer assembled on its own. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center – Emergent Behavior for Integrated Cellular Systems and NSF’s Emergent Frontiers in Research and Innovation.
These innovations lay a foundation for the futuristic goal to replace missing appendages on humans in case it is repeated and replicated with human tissue. “We envision this advance leading to the development of multicellular engineered living systems with the ability to respond intelligently to environmental cues for applications in bioengineering, medicine, and self-healing materials technologies,” Taher adds. The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.