Humans build autonomous robots all the time, but they tend
to be made of metal, plastic and need batteries. Now a team at the University of Illinois has built an antonomous robot made from plastic and living cells. Such a device could be used to detect chemicals in water, climb walls or react to certain elements in the water like a sensor.
Engineering professor Rashid
Bashir led a group of scientists that put a layer of heart cells from a rat on one side of a
layer of hydrogel. The heart cells, being muscle cells, contract, and bend the
whole thing. When they relax, it straightens out. The rhythmic expansion
and contractraction allows the so-called bio bot to pull itself along.
Because the bio-bot is made of soft plastic and
cells, it can be manipulated into shapes that aren't possible with metal. For example, Bashir's group made the
polymer into a shape with two appendages — one shaped like a wide square and for support and
another shaped into a thin, flat shape that bends. When it "walks" it looks more like a
Another feature is the way it's made: the hydrogel part was
made in a 3D printer. By printing robot "parts" this way, it's
possible to get a greater variety of shapes. It also means that designing new
ones is a much quicker process, since the shaping is done on design software
and the materials are simple to work with. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Credit: University of Illinois