A group of scientists created a unique design for remote-controlled walking robots that run on lab-grown muscle tissue and light. The hybrid “eBiobots” are the first to combine soft materials, living muscle, and microelectronics said researchers led by Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They described their centimeter-scale biological machines in the journal Science Robotics.
Biohybrid robots are a sci-fi concept that comes to life, a merger of artificial and biological parts. Cyborg insects, microscopic, remote-controlled microbes, and mechanical vehicles driven by muscular tissues are all included in the definition.
The field is still in its early stages, with the most notable bio-robotics advancements occurring within the last decade or so. The main disadvantage at the moment is that it is not as technologically mature as its artificial counterparts. This means that biohybrid robots may be slower or less durable than standard machinery.
The new biohybrid robots are made up of three primary components: mouse muscle cells, soft 3D-printed scaffolds, and wireless LED control circuits. Light is used by the LED chips to stimulate mouse tissue. As the muscles contract, the scaffold contorts, causing the robot to “walk” forward due to its asymmetrical design. Using this method, the robots reached speeds of up to.83 millimeters per second, which isn’t quite NASCAR speed but is the fastest achieved by this type of biohybrid to date.
The team even created a set of interchangeable LEGO-inspired robot accessories for a range of activities. Using these capabilities, the bots could easily collect a succession of small things or plow through them. The researchers created monopedal and bipedal versions of machines that could navigate a maze.
According to Gazzola, a mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and study co-author, the new study provides lots of starting points for future research. Some researchers may wish to work on quicker biohybrid robots, while others may wish to fine-tune the wireless control system and improve its range.
Gazzola’s goal is to grow and incorporate brain cells into the system, allowing the bots to perform basic computations and potentially drive themselves. While the future of biohybrid robots remains uncertain, we’re getting closer—one light-induced muscle twitches at a time.