Half-gross yet half-awesome, this robot integrates living tissue with metal to create a moving cyborg arm. It all sounds a bit Ghost in the Shell.
The biohybrid robot was created by researchers at The University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science. As reported in the journal Science Robotics, they grew a bunch of lab-grown muscles obtained from baby rats on flexible hydrogel sheets and then applied them to a metal and plastic robotic skeleton. Electrodes were used to zap the muscle tissue and spark a contraction.
Scientists have been fascinated with the idea of creating biohybrid robots for decades, but even their most recent efforts have fallen flat. Making the robots is one thing, keeping them alive is another. These models have a considerably longer shelf-life than others because their muscles are capable of both contraction and expansion. Thanks to this development, it was able to pump iron for over a week without losing function.
“Once we had built the muscles, we successfully used them as antagonistic pairs in the robot, with one contracting and the other expanding, just like in the body,” study corresponding author Shoji Takeuchi said in a statement. “The fact that they were exerting opposing forces on each other stopped them shrinking and deteriorating, like in previous studies.”
In the cyborg’s test runs, it was able to delicately pick up a small ring and place it on a peg, as well as lift small objects. You can watch the biohybrid robot do its thing in the video above.
“Our findings show that, using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger,” said lead author Yuya Morimoto.
Granted, it will be a long while until we are capable of creating The Terminator, as the movement is still pretty clumsy. The robotic arm also has to remain in the water bath to prevent its lab-grown cells from dying. Nevertheless, this is a pretty bold step forward in the field of biohybrid robotics.
Morimoto added: “If we can combine more of these muscles into a single device, we should be able to reproduce the complex muscular interplay that allow hands, arms, and other parts of the body to function.”