Bio-bot steps ahead
Researchers are teaching a robot with organic muscles how to walk like a human.
A Japanese team has developed a biohybrid robot, primarily constructed from silicone rubber for flexibility and resilience, equipped with lab-grown skeletal muscle tissues.
These muscles are stimulated by electricity, allowing the robot to perform a range of motions, including walking, turning, stopping, and making fine adjustments.
In a recent experiment, they were even able to emulate the intricate and efficient movements characteristic of the human body.
Dr Shoji Takeuchi, the corresponding author from the University of Tokyo, Japan, highlights the significance of this advancement.
“Research on biohybrid robots, which are a fusion of biology and mechanics, is recently attracting attention as a new field of robotics featuring biological function,” Dr Takeuchi explains.
“Using muscle as actuators allows us to build a compact robot and achieve efficient, silent movements with a soft touch.”
One of the most striking features of this biohybrid robot is its ability to walk and pivot underwater, thanks to its foam buoy top and weighted legs.
The electrically-stimulated muscle tissues enable the robot to walk at a speed of 5.4 mm/min and turn with precision. These capabilities represent a notable enhancement over previous biohybrid models, which were limited to straight-line movements and less agile turns.
Dr Takeuchi says it was a big moment when the team first saw the robot's successful walking.
“A cheer broke out during our regular lab meeting when we saw the robot successfully walk on the video,” he said.
“Though they might seem like small steps, they are, in fact, giant leaps forward for the biohybrid robots.”
Looking ahead, the research team plans to further refine the robot, adding joints and thicker muscle tissues for more sophisticated movements. They are also working on integrating a nutrient supply system to sustain the living tissues and structures for air operation.
Details from the walking experiments are available here, while a profile on Dr Takeuchi can be seen below.