Cleveland- A group of scientists at Case Western Reverse University combined tissues from a sea slug with flexible 3-D parts to build what they called a “biohybrid” robot that can crawl like a sea turtle on the beach.
Sadly, the robot is slower than a slug, but what really matters is that if these organic robots prove their effectiveness, sea exploring could be possible without polluting the location and would allow researching without interfering with the environment. The announcement was published online in the Case Western Reverse University Think blog on Monday.
The leader of the research is Victoria Webster, a Ph.D. student that says that the team is building a living machine that they want to be entirely organic. Webster has worked along different scientist, including engineers and biologists to create the 2-inch robot.
Among the collaborators is Roger Quinn, the Arthur P. Armington Professor of Engineering and director of Case Western Reserve’s Biological Inspired Robotics Laboratory, and Hillel Chiel, a biology professor who has studied the California sea slug for decades.
Quinn said that the combination of materials from the California sea slug with the 3-D parts is making the team overcome more than what an animal or an entirely man-made robot could do. The team’s robot can do different tasks and it last more than animal or a regular robot due to the California sea slug’s cells.
The California sea slug, Aplysia californica, has durable cells that can endure temperature and salinity changes, and other challenges that are characteristic of the Pacific Ocean environments, including deep waters and shallow pools. Other robots cannot adapt to the variety of scenarios that the slug robot can, says the press release.
The biohybrid robot uses muscles from the sea slug’s mouth, and an external electric field controls its movement. But initially, the team tried to use muscle cells. They changed their minds because according to Chiel, the mouth muscles have already the desire structure and form that will provide the function and strength they need.
Researchers are controlling the robot’s movement with the slug own ganglia through chemical or electrical stimuli to manage to contract the muscles. Webster said that with the ganglia, the tissue is capable of complex movements that a man made robot cannot achieve. Webster added that ganglia could be trained, and it will make the robot capable of learning. What the team plans is to teach ganglia to move the robot forward or backward in response to 2 signals.
The press release explains that Ozan Akkus, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the CWRU Tissue Fabrication and Mechanobiology Lab, another collaborator in the study, is working with the California sea slug’s collagen to built the robot’s scaffold. Because the goal of the research is to create a complete organic robot, Akkus’ lab gelled collagen from the animal skin and used electrical currents to align and compact collagen threads, to assemble a lightweight, flexible and durable scaffold.
The biohybrid robot uses muscles from the sea slug’s mouth, and an external electric field controls its movement. But initially, the team tried to use muscle cells. Photo credit: Victoria Webster / Engadget
Future biohybrid robots and their advantages for the human race
If the organic robots are proved useful, they could be released in the ocean or a pond to find a toxic leak, or to search for the black box flight data recorder, shortening the long process that current robots cannot stand due to their battery life.
These biohybrid robots could research without battery chemicals and metals that harm the environment, instead, the robots could be eaten or degraded into compost and not be noticed by the fauna. They will also be inexpensive, according to the article.
Victoria Webster will discuss the biohybrid robot’s material and its building process at the Living Machines conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, this week.