Biobots – Revolutionizing Robotics

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Robots are no more just wires and metal. Living cells are making their way into creating biohybrid robots. A research team from Georgia Institute of Technology led by Steve Potter has been experimenting with a combination of neuron cells from a rodent and a robotic body to…  (Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://pixabay.com/en/scorpio-arachnid-gliederf%C3%BCsser-2878338/)

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Robots are no more just wires and metal. Living cells are making their way into creating biohybrid robots. A research team from Georgia Institute of Technology led by Steve Potter has been experimenting with a combination of neuron cells from a rodent and a robotic body to create a Hybrot.

The Hybrot’s brain contained a network of rodent neuron cells and an artificial body for mobility. A microscopic section of a rat’s cortex containing thousands of live neurons was placed in a special glass petri dish, mounted with 60 micro-electrodes. For over two years, these neurons were kept alive in an incubator using a new sealed-dish culture, which has been patented as US6521451B. Information of neural activities were recorded and transmitted via electrodes. Data from the robot’s sensors was sent back to the cultured net in the form of electrical stimuli. The Center for Biologically Inspired Robotics Research at Case Western Reserve University study and research in the field of robotics using insights gained from the study of biological mechanisms. They have developed a Compliant Modular Mesh Worm (CMMWorm) that utilizes a compliant 3-D printed mesh actuated at modular segments to create waveforms along its body, generating peristaltic motion. US6532400B1 assigned to Intelligent Inference Systems Corp and WO2008089278A3 assigned to California University describe methods for creating biologically derived robots.

Fig 1. of patent WO2008089278A3 shows proteorhodopsin-containing (PR+) E. coli responding to light. (A) Overview of spectra and spectral overlaps. (B) Single PR+ bacterium swims faster when illuminated with green light.

Bots that attack cancer delve into the center of the earth

Nanobots, with special abilities to fight cancer, have been intriguing researchers for a while now. A nanobot can scale robotics to a size of nanometers (10−9meters). These nanorobots are so tiny that 50,000 of them can fit across the diameter of a human hair.

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In an experiment conducted by researchers at Durham University, nanorobots were drilled into cancer cells. These bots killed the cancerous cells in less than 60 seconds. Patents US20100242585A1 and US9063252B2 describe the use of nanorobots to also explore geophysical formations at great depths below the surface of the earth.

Patent Drawings of US9063252B2, shows use of nanobots for exploring earth surfaces

Building on these nanorobots are biohybrid robots or biobots. They are built by combining robotics with tissue engineering, therefore powering them with living muscle tissue or cells. The cells can be contracted to enable the robots to swim with stimulation from either light or electricity. Such biobots can move around with ease and also acquire animal-like soft-to-touch features. These bio-machines are light in weight and require nutrients such as proteins and cellulose to power and develop them.

Such biobots are safer for the people they interact with and less harmful to the environment they work in as they are tender outside of the human body and biodegradable inside. Therefore, these biobots are less likely to harm the people working around them. Moreover, the biobots can be decomposed organically, leaving behind substantially less electronic waste in the environment.

Engineering Biobots – The Science Behind It  

Living cells from the heart or skeletal muscle of rats or chickens can be used for fabricating biobots on structures that are innocuous to the cells. The cells may wind up in random orientation if they are placed on a molded skeleton without any guidance. When electricity is applied, the cells contract and create a force that is applied in all directions, making the device inefficient. To tackle this, researchers are experimenting with micropatterning techniques to harness the cell’s power. Microscale lines made of substances the cells prefer to attach to are stamped or printed on the skeleton. These lines guide the cells so that as they grow, they align with the printed sequence. With the cells all lined up, researchers have been able to direct the contraction force and actuate it.

A group led by researchers at California Institute of Technology developed a biohybrid robot inspired by the jellyfish. Called the medusoid, this biobot has arms arranged in a circle. Each arm is micropatterned with protein lines to ensure that the cells grow in a pattern similar to the muscles in a living jellyfish. When the cells contract, the arms bend inwards. This action propels the biohybrid robot forward in nutrient-rich liquid.

Such biobots are expected to be able to swim inside the human body and carry drugs to different organs, thus reducing the need for surgeries. They can also be leveraged to clear clots and deliver drugs faster in the human biological system. Biobots can come to the aid of heart patients; stents made of organic substrates can be used to strengthen weak blood vessels, and, maybe over a period of time, these stents can be integrated into the body with the help of biobots. Attempts to grow vascular systems may open the possibility of growing large-scale robots actuated by muscle. All in all, biobots are set to change the future of medicine.

 (Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://pixabay.com/en/scorpio-arachnid-gliederf%C3%BCsser-2878338/)

Ashish Kumar
Ashish Kumar

Ashish is a tech-dreamer who enjoys conjuring up futuristic technologies and exploring avenues for them to fit into the real world scheme of things. He also enjoys travelling.


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