Scientists Build ‘Bio-Bots’ That Use Actual Muscles

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have succeeded in developing “bio-bots,” which are 3D printed, and walk by using actual, twitching muscle tissue.

The bio-bots, which are self propelled, can be controlled using electrical impulses, io9 reports. A fusion of biological and mechanical components, the bio-bots combine soft robotics with muscle tissue and cells. Less than a centimeter long, the bots are “designed to mimic the muscle-tendon-bone complex found in the body.” They are a variation of biomimetics, a concept that involves the mechanical copying of biological systems, as The Inquisitr previously reported.

The bio-bots are an evolution of a previously designed model. UoI professor Abel Bliss and his team developed functioning bots several years ago that utilized cells taken from the hearts of rats for motive force. Heart cells constantly contract, however, leaving the first generation of bio-bots largely uncontrollable. Bliss’ team changed their design to a more “intuitive” one that mimics the muscle system of the human body.

Varying electrical fields will change the speed of the muscle contractions, allowing researchers to control the bio-bots.
The bio-bots can be controlled with electrical impulses, which change the speed of muscle contraction

Two tiny posts, which act as the feet of the bio-bot, also anchor a small piece of muscle tissue, which is stretched between them. Contractions induced into the muscle by an electrical field allow the bio-bot to “walk,” at a speed which can be varied by changing the frequency of the electric current. The higher the frequency of the electric field, the faster the muscle’s contractions, which allows to bio-bot to walk faster.

Study co-first author and Illinois graduate student Caroline Cvetkovic said that it was “only natural that we would start from a bio-mimetic design principle, such as the native organization of the musculoskeletal system, as a jumping-off point,” according to Redorbit. Calling the bio-bots “an important first step in the development and control of biological machines that can be stimulated, trained, or programmed to do work,” Cvetkovic highlighted the multitude of possible applications the technology could have. Bio-bots could be utilized for drug delivery, environmental analysis, or even surgical applications.

The next step for researchers is to develop more finite control over the bio-bot’s locomotion. Integrating neurons into the bio-bot’s muscular structure is one method by which this may be achieved, allowing the bots to be steered in different directions through the use of light sources or chemicals. Researchers also hope to develop a 3D printed “backbone”for the bots, made from hydrogel, which would allow different signals to be passed to the bio-bots’ muscles.

[Images via io9 and MailOnline]