Two-Legged Robot Powered by Muscle Tissue: A Scientific Breakthrough

Scientists from Japan have designed a two-legged biohybrid robot that can walk and pivot by combining muscle tissues and artificial materials. The robot mimics human gait and operates in water, which is a novel feature for biohybrid robots. The research was published on January 26, 2024 in the journal Matter.

What is a biohybrid robot?

A biohybrid robot is a fusion of biology and mechanics, which can leverage the biological functions of living tissues such as muscles, neurons, or bacteria. Biohybrid robots have been developed to crawl, swim, or grasp objects using muscle tissues as actuators. However, most of these robots have limited mobility and cannot make sharp turns or fine movements.

How does the two-legged biohybrid robot work?

The two-legged biohybrid robot was inspired by human gait and has a foam buoy top and weighted legs to help it stand straight underwater. The skeleton of the robot is mainly made from silicone rubber that can bend and flex to conform to muscle movements. The researchers attached strips of lab-grown skeletal muscle tissues to the silicone rubber and each leg.

To make the robot walk, the researchers applied an electric field to the muscle tissues, which caused them to contract and lift the leg up. The heel of the leg then landed forward when the electric field was removed. By alternating the electric stimulation between the left and right leg every 5 seconds, the robot successfully walked at the speed of 5.4 mm/min (0.002 mph).

To make the robot turn, the researchers repeatedly stimulated the right leg every 5 seconds while the left leg served as an anchor. The robot made a 90-degree left turn in 62 seconds.

Why is this a scientific breakthrough?

The two-legged biohybrid robot is a scientific breakthrough because it demonstrates that muscle-driven bipedal robots can walk, stop, and make fine-tuned turning motions. This is a significant improvement over previous biohybrid robots that could only crawl or swim straight forward.

The researchers also showed that using muscle tissues as actuators allows them to build a compact robot that can achieve efficient, silent movements with a soft touch. This could have applications in fields such as medicine, entertainment, or education.

The research also offers valuable insights for the advancement of soft flexible robots powered by muscle tissue and has the potential to contribute to a deeper understanding of human locomotion.

What are the future plans for the two-legged biohybrid robot?

The researchers plan to improve the speed and performance of the two-legged biohybrid robot by integrating the electrodes into the robot and giving joints and thicker muscle tissues to the legs. They also aim to develop a nutrient supply system to sustain the living tissues and device structures that allow the robot to operate in air.

The research team hopes that their two-legged biohybrid robot will inspire more innovations in biohybrid robotics and biotechnology.

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