Human tissue has been fused with a robot that uses it to walk in what scientists hail a ‘giant leap’ for cyborg robotics.
Researchers in Japan made the new part-human, part-machine robot by combining muscle tissues with artificial materials.
The two-legged cyborg is made from silicone rubber which bends and flexes to make muscle movements with the help of lab-grown skeletal muscle tissues on each leg.
The impressive robot, which aims to mimic human movement, can walk and even turn – though it takes over a minute to do so.
The researchers aim to improve the robot’s speed in the coming years, hailing their walking cyborg as a ‘giant leap forward’ in biohybrid robotics.
Compared to robots, human bodies are flexible, capable of fine movements and can convert energy efficiently into movement.
Two-legged biohybrid robot. SHOJI TAKEUCHI/UNI OF TOKYO VIA SWNS.
In a study published in the journal Matter, researchers from the University of Tokyo drew inspiration from the human gait to craft a biohybrid robot by combining muscle tissues and artificial materials. Their innovative two-legged robot builds on the legacy of biohybrid robots that take advantage of muscles to achieve efficient movement.
Muscle tissues have driven biohybrid robots to crawl, swim and make turns, an essential feature for robots to avoid obstacles.
Dr Shoji Takeuchi, an author of the study, explained: “Research on biohybrid robots, which are a fusion of biology and mechanics, is recently attracting attention as a new field of robotics featuring biological function. “Using muscle as actuators allows us to build a compact robot and achieve efficient, silent movements with a soft touch,” said Takeuchi.
To build a nimbler robot with delicate movements, the researchers designed a robot that mimics a human gait and can operate in water. Their robot boasts a foam buoy top and weighted legs to help it stand straight underwater, whilst its skeleton is comprised mainly of silicone rubber that can bend and flex to conform to muscle movements.
By repeatedly applying electricity to one of the bipedal biohybrid robot’s legs, the robot made a 90-degree turn using the other leg as an anchor.
The researchers then attached strips of lab-grown skeletal muscle tissues to the silicone rubber and each leg.
When they zapped the muscle tissue with electricity, they contracted, lifting the leg. The heel of the leg then landed forward once the electricity dissipated.
In alternating the electric stimulations between the left and right leg every five seconds, the robot was able to successfully walk – albeit at a snail’s pace of around 5.4mm per minute or 0.002 miles an hour. To make the robot turn, the researchers repeatedly zapped the right leg every five seconds whilst the left leg acted as an anchor.
The robot was able to perform a 90-degree left turn – even though it took a little over a minute (62 seconds).
The findings showed that the muscle-driven bipedal robot can walk, stop, and make fine-tuned turning motions.
The muscle tissue can drive the two-legged biohybrid robot to walk forward upon electricity stimulation.
“Currently, we are manually moving a pair of electrodes to apply an electric field individually to the legs, which takes time,” said Dr Takeuchi. “In the future, by integrating the electrodes into the robot, we expect to increase the speed more efficiently.”
The researchers also plan to afford the robots more powerful movement by giving them joints and thicker muscle tissues.
But before upgrading the robot with more biological components, Dr Takeuchi says the team will have to integrate a nutrient supply system to sustain the living tissues and device structures that allow the robot to operate in the air.
Despite the work left to be done, the team is excited by what they consider to be a significant step forward in cyborg robotics. “A cheer broke out during our regular lab meeting when we saw the robot successfully walk on the video,” Dr Takeuchi added.
“Though they might seem like small steps, they are, in fact, giant leaps forward for the biohybrid robots.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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