It is not a distant dream when robots will enter the human skin. A new generation of biological robots is flexing its muscle and engineers are ready to give them muscles. It sounds a little strange but the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated a class of walking “bio-bots” which are powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical pulses, giving researchers unprecedented command over their function. The group led by Rashid Bashir, Abel Bliss Professor and head of bioengineering at the University of Illinois, is trying to integrate principles of engineering with biology in a way that can be used to design and develop biological machines and systems for environmental and medical applications.
The speciality of these bots is that they are made of skeletal muscle cells (a muscle which helps allow fine control and gradual responses). These muscles cells can be triggered by an electric pulse. This helps to control the movement of the bots and has opened possibilities to do modification according to a specific function. A bot’s speed can be controlled by adjusting the frequency of the electric pulses. A higher frequency causes the muscle to contract faster, thus speeding up the bio-bots’ progress.
Previously, the researchers tired to build bio-bots by using hearts cells from rats but the problem with hearts cells was that it kept on contracting constantly and thus limited the researchers to gain control over the bots’ motion. The design of the bots is inspired by the muscle-tendon-bone complex found in nature. There is a backbone of 3D printed hydrogel, strong enough to give the bio-bot structure but flexible enough to bend like a joint. Two posts serve to anchor a strip of muscle to the backbone, like tendons attach muscle to bone, but the posts also act as feet for the bio-bot.
With the creation of such bio-bots one thing is clear that scientists all over the world are trying to make robots that can look like us, walk like us, talk like us and act like us. From ancient time humans have a dream to become God one day and with the current rate of development this dream can be possible in distant future.
By Rohan Pal