A local research group has been developing cool little “muscle powered” robots for a while now. These hybrid “bio bots” are powered by muscle tissue, coupled to an engineered skeleton and body.
But how can these minibots be controlled? Initial work used electrical stimulation, but this is not a great approach.
The Illinois research team has published new work demonstrating optical control of the muscle tissue, which makes it possible to precisely control the contraction of individual actuators.
If I understand the technique, the muscle is genetically manipulated to be responsive to light. (It works the same way as other tissue, but also has a “light sensitive cation channel” (, p. 3497)
A second innovation is to grow the muscle in rings, a la rubber bands. This makes them modular and opens the way for designing complex devices.
Together, it should be possible to create tiny robots powered by an array of different size rubber bands, each of which contracts when specifically stimulated with light. Cool!
Another interesting aspect is that the muscle tissue is “exercised” to selectively strengthen it. In fact, the rings are exercised daily, and grow stronger. Wow! I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s kind of cool to have to exercise your robot.
- Ritu Raman, Caroline Cvetkovic, Sebastien G. M. Uzel, Randall J. Platt, Parijat Sengupta, Roger D. Kamm, and Rashid Bashir, Optogenetic skeletal muscle-powered adaptive biological machines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113 (13):3497-3502, 2016. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/13/3497.abstract