Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbania-Champaign have managed to create a new class of robot, referred to as “bio-bots.” They’re powered by muscle cells controlled by electrical pulses. Though still at their beginning stages, the bio-bots carry incredible implications of the future of combining biology with 3-D printing technology and engineering.
Study leader Rashid Bashir and University of Illinois professor Abel Bliss shared the possibilities of their findings. “Biology is tremendously powerful, and if we can somehow learn to harness its advantages for useful applications, it could bring about a lot of great things.”
The bio-bots are smaller than a centimeter in size and made of a combination of flexible 3-D printed hydrocels and living cells. They looked like a tiny snail (without a shell) stretched across what looks like a vice grip on both ends. The first run was powered by heart cells from rats, but heart cells constantly contract, which limited control of the bio-bots. The second set of bio-bots ran on skeletal muscles cells that greatly expand the possible applications. With higher rates of electrical pulses, the bot bots move more quickly and use the 3-D hydrocels to move. Slower pulses make the bots crawl.
In the near future, engineers expect to be able to fine-tune control of the bio-bots movements; with light and chemicals, they hope to control their direction. Somewhere down the line, bio-bots could be able to react to specified chemicals. If they conquer that hurdle, bio-bots could be directed to seek out and counteract toxins in an organism. Endangered ecosystems could be preserved if future tests are successful.