Researchers from Northwestern and Illinois Urbana-Champaign universities, both in the United States, have developed biohybrid robots that manage to move around easily, using mechanical parts and muscles from mice created in the laboratory.
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According to the scientists involved in the project, these small biological robots are powered by muscle tissue from mice, grown into a light and functional skeleton made from a soft plastic polymer, manufactured in a conventional 3D printer.
“The integration of microelectronics allows the merging of the biological world and the electronics world, both with many advantages of their own, to produce biorobots and machines that can be useful for many medical, environmental and detection applications in the future”, explains the professor of bioengineering Rashid Bashir, co-author of the study.
Biohybrid robots work from the junction of artificial and living parts, ranging from insects designed with cyborg parts to remotely controlled microorganisms or mechanical vehicles powered by muscle tissues.
These new biological bots combine three key components into one device: mouse muscle cells, soft 3D-printed structures — called scaffolds — and wireless LED control chips. These chips use light to stimulate organic tissue, and as the muscles contract, the system makes the robot move in the desired direction.
“Using this simple approach, we were able to reach speeds of up to 0.83 millimeters per second. This is not exactly a racing car, but it is the fastest speed ever achieved by a biohybrid robot”, adds mechanical engineer Mattia Gazzola, co-author of the project.
freedom of movement
To give the biobots the ability to move freely through their environment, the researchers decided to eliminate bulky batteries and tethering wires. The robots use a receiver coil to harvest energy and provide a regulated output voltage to power the control LEDs.
Using this mobility and a biological basis, these robots can, for example, employ living cells to naturally sense or react to certain stimuli, such as light, heat or chemicals, without having to be programmed, allowing the detection of toxins in the environment or acting as a disease biomarkers.
“By developing the first hybrid bioelectronic robot, we are opening the door to a new paradigm of applications for innovation in health, such as in-situ biopsies and Reviews, minimally invasive surgeries or even the detection of tumors in the human body”, concludes the professor of biomedical engineering Zhengwei Li, lead author of the study.
Source: University of Illinois