Researchers at the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science have developed a way to integrate living muscle into machines to create a biohybrid robot or, as they're better known, a cyborg.
Reported in the journal Science Robotics, the study demonstrates how the researchers developed the use of living tissue within robots, rather than just metal and plastic.
The new method progresses from individual muscle precursor cells, to muscle-cell-filled sheets, and then to fully functioning skeletal muscle tissues. They were able to incorporate these muscles into a biohybrid robot as antagonistic pairs mimicking those in the body to achieve remarkable robot movement and continued muscle function for over a week.
To develop the muscle-powered robots, the team first constructed a robot skeleton on which to install the pair of functioning muscles. This included a rotatable joint, anchors where the muscles could attach, and electrodes to provide the stimulus to induce muscle contraction.
For the living muscle part of the robot, they used hydrogel sheets containing muscle precursor cells called myoblasts, holes to attach these sheets to the robot skeleton anchors, and stripes to encourage the muscle fibres to form in an aligned way.
"Our findings show that, using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger," lead author of the study, Yuya Morimoto, said.
"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."
The research comes as scientists at Seoul National University announced they have developed a skin-like electronic system for robots.
The "e-skin" tech comprises a soft, thin, lightweight material that can wirelessly activate soft robots through a simple lamination process.
It is made up of a two-part, wireless soft driving system based on a fully printable "stretchable hybrid electronics" approach, according to the study. One part is the e-skin for input sensing at a human side, and the other for activating soft robots.
Measuring less than one millimetre thick, the e-skins also feature a circuit configuration with a slew of miniature IC meaning they can be stretched and conformed onto the dynamic surface like human skin or soft robots.
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