Home » Technology » Robot » The Future Of Robot, Biohybrid – 2017

Sometimes it can amaze us when we are looking at the rate of how rapidly technology evolve. Technology across many fields are advancing so quickly that there are various of technology that come into existence on a regular basic, of which, we may never knew they existed. Looking back a couple of decades ago, there were hardly anything such as the internet, and now, the scene of accessing the internet using mobile gadgets is the norm of society. The same can certainly be said in regard to robotic developments and researches.

Biohybrid Robots?

When we speak of the word “robot”, it probably instantly brings to mind a hard metallic figure with plenty of screws, nuts, and bolts in its kit. Though such a robot is quite useful, it is also pretty dangerous to be around. Any command gone wrong and it could sweep you right off your feet and bang you around. That is the worst-case scenario. Even if it does not come to that, there is plenty of chance that a robot may accidentally end up hurting you due to its hard and tough body. In order to address this issue, scientists tried to come up with various experiments in order to tone down the hardness of the robotic body of robots. One of the method that researchers had come up with to make robots having a softer body to become less dangerous is to create what is describe as a Biohybrid Robot.

Besides the issue of the danger that can cause by a metallic machine, there maybe other reasons that inspired scientists to come to the development of Biohybrid Robots. It is almost certain that one of the other reason maybe related to the flexibility of how a robot moves. When speaking about how a robot move its body, bots that built from nuts and bolts may not offer the best flexibility, and therefore, making their movements almost completely unnatural. On the other hand, Biohydbrid Robots, due to the composition of their body, offer more flexibility on how their body can be moved. Therefore, Biohybrid bots would achieve a more nature-like movement unlike their nuts and bolt counterpart.

Biohybrid Robots, as the name suggest, are robot that created by incorporating nature’s biological materials with man-made substances. These hybrid bots are made up of living cells instead of metal. The tissue type or the arrangement of the tissue of a Biohyrid Robot make their body react differently to certain energy source. For example, the muscle within their body may contract or expand if their body is in contact with a certain type of energy, and therefore, making their body move. Which or what type of energy would make their body react would probably be based on the composition of their body and most likely be designed by the scientist or engineer that built the bot. In another word, a Biohybrid Robot is a production of a hybrid between organic and artificial materials. The composition of their body or the arrangement of the material in their body may makes their body react differently when in contact with different energy source. Maybe one day, there will be a brain or a computer chip that can control the movement of a Biohybrid bot, but for now, as it seem, energy is what their body react to.

Biohybrid bots are robots that are built from living tissues of animals, and because of that, their body become softer which make them less harmful and dangerous. Besides being less dangerous, these hybrid bots movement is more flexible than robots of metal. Although not as natural as the real thing, some of the hybrid bots that were built in the shape of a real animal were offer an almost nature like movement that is almost as natural as the real animal. Since hybrid robots shell are soft and safe, it is quite safe to have one in possession, and whether in a domestic environments or another environment, it should be very safe to be around them.

What makes them so unique?

Since Biohybrid Robots are not metallic machines but are machines of living tissues, they cannot survive on electric impulses of the traditional method of powering, but instead, thrive their power from nutrients. Hence, they don’t make use of batteries in their system. Hence, Biohybrid Robots are comparatively lighter in weight than the metallic ones.

Biobots are complex structures that resulted from blending robotic engineering with tissue engineering, and therefore, need to be dealt with in a more caring manner. Their functions can be control with electricity, light, and maybe one day, many more type of energy. Making a Biohybrid Robot bends their muscles to move around can be stimulated by electrical energy, of which, making them carry out their functions just like a real organic animal.

From the above, these below are some but may not be all of the key uniqueness of a Biohybrid Robot.
1. A production of the incorporation of organic and artificial materials.
2. Softer and/or nature-like body structure.
3. Powers by nutrients instead of by electricity.
4. Nature-like movement.
5. Light weight.

Tissue-engineered soft robotic ray that’s controlled with light. By Karaghen Hudson and Michael Rosnach, CC BY-ND

What does it take to build a Biohybrid Robot?

The very first step of creating a Biohybrid Robot is probably to design the robot bases on the purpose of producing that robot. After that, it is most likely choosing the right material for building the robot, and since it is a Biohybrid Robot, there most likely be one or more type of living cells that will be combined with some artificial materials. For organic material(s), usually they are growth from living cells of animals, which most likely are nontoxic to the human body. Currently, rats and chicken are a good source for obtaining organic material that can be used for building the heart and skeletal or a Biohybrid Robot. Sometimes, the living cells that are being used in a Biohybrid Robot have to be genetically encoded for them to react properly to different form of energy.

After organic materials, there most likely be one or more artificial materials that will be chosen to incorporated into the robot’s structure, and there can be a wide variety of artificial materials that can be used for building a Biohybrid Robot. For example, gold, silicone rubber and polymer are some of the good artificial materials that can be incorporated into building Biohybrid Robot. After that, reaction and efficiency would most likely be the next top key issue. The cells of the Biohybrid Robot are then arrange in such a way that make them more efficient in usage while the bot still correctly respond to the type of energy that their body was designed to respond to.

Tissue-engineered biobots on titanium molds. By Karaghen Hudson and Sung-Jin Park, CC BY-ND

Tissue-engineered biobots on titanium molds. By Karaghen Hudson and Sung-Jin Park, CC BY-ND

Biohybrid Inspiration And Other Applications

Some of the Biohybrid Robot projects are definitely been inspired by the natural functioning of animals. There is a Biohybrid device by the name “Medusoid”, which is an artificial jellyfish that built from incorporating heart muscle cells of a rat with silicone rubber. The body structure of Medusoid and even its movements were carefully engineered to mimic the exact texture and movements of a real jellyfish. When Medusoid’s body swim in water while being subjected to an electric field, it movements were so natural that the movements also produced water currents that are similar to those currents in nature that wash food particles into a real jellyfish’s mouths. The project of Medusoid, in fact, is a project for researchers to learn how organic cells react so one day researchers can incorporate the information from the “Medusoid” project into other researches such as growing organic body parts that can be used to replace malfunction ones. For example, replacing a heart valve using an organic growth valve instead of implanting one that made from metallic part, and if you combine the technology of nano robotic and hybrid robotic together, this operation may not be at all invasive.

Besides “Medusoid”, there are plenty of other animal-like Biohybrid bots. Nonetheless, one of another noticeable Biohybrid Robot is a Biohybrid Stingray that produced by Harvard University’s Department of Bioengineering and Applied Sciences. The Biohybrid Stingray was built with both, organic material and metal. It’s body was, again, having something to do with rat. The Biohybrid Stingray was built with rat heart cells, and the cells were carefully genetically encoded so that the Bio-Stingray respond to light. Once again, the Biohybrid Stingray Robot project simply started because of the desire to create an artificial stingray. That desire started by a scientist with the name Parker. Nevertheless, at future holds, it seem that the technologies that incorporated into building the Biobot will not just contain to the purpose of producing artificial stingray, but in fact, having something to do with human heart. Parker, the one whom came up with the idea of building a Biohybrid Stingray Robot is also a cardiac physiologist. In the foreseeable future, it seems his goal is to be able to use the technologies that are behind the robotic stingray into constructing not just part, but an entire human heart for the purpose of replacing the heart of kids that have heart disease.

Conclusion

From the above description of Biohybrid Robots and if we didn’t know that the technology exist, it is hardly believable that something like that even exists. There are tremendous amount of works and researches that are being dedicate to Biohybrid Robot projects to make the functions of these devices better and more efficient. Currently, the life span of a Biohybrid Robot is short. The longevity of the life span of Biohybrid Bots needs to increase tremendously for them to be of any usefulness. Besides that, factors such as temperature also need to be considered, and that is because some muscles may only function at certain temperatures. All of these reasons make Biohybrid Robots a near reality, but because of the current state of the technology, hybrid bots are far from the capability of being usefulness for regular usage. Nevertheless, can you imagine the day of having a robot that look like you, feel like you, talk like you, and move like you?

Sea turtle-inspired biohybrid robot powered by muscle from the sea slug. By Dr. Andrew Horchler. CC BY-ND

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