Researchers have successfully created a biologically powered robot by 3D printing a simple skeleton, growing skeletal mouse muscle on it, and stimulating its movement using an electrical field to stimulate muscle contraction. They believe it could be possible to take further steps to replace the electrical field with motor neurons in the future and to supply the muscle with food and oxygen in a small closed system to create something that resembles a biological organism. Creepy? Amazing? Maybe both? From Motherboard:
The biologically powered robot—known as bio-bot—has a hydrogel skeleton composed of a flexible connecting beam and two protruding poles. Cells are grown in between these two poles, as demonstrated in a new study published in PNAS.
The researchers used skeletal muscle cells for an extra robust muscle strip. They also optimized the flexibility of the 3D printed skeleton’s beam by changing its porousness.
To stimulate the muscles to contract, the bio-bot was placed in a liquid dish with a bi-polar electrical field. When electricity is pulsed, it’s sufficiently similar to our motor neurons’ signaling to cause protein expression and muscle contraction.
To make it move, they had to print a new skeleton. They found the pillars needed to be different heights to generate momentum. When this skeleton was placed in the bi-polar electrical field dish, it created the same crawling movement you see with an inchworm.