Researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) have built "biohybrid" robots that crawl like sea turtles on the beach by combining tissues from a sea slug with flexible three-dimensionally (3D)-printed components.
A muscle from the slug's mouth provides the movement, which currently is controlled by an external electrical field.
The researchers say their goal is to make a completely organic robot. They plan for future iterations of the device to include ganglia, bundles of neurons, and nerves that normally conduct signals to the muscle as the slug feeds, as an organic controller.
"With the ganglia, the muscle is capable of much more complex movement, compared to using a man-made control, and it's capable of learning," says CWRU postdoctoral researcher Victoria Webster.
The team chose the sea slug because it is durable and adaptable. The researchers envision swarms of biohybrid robots being released in the future for such tasks as locating the source of a toxic leak in a pond or searching the ocean floor for a black box flight data recorder.
The device uses the I2 muscle from the mouth area, or buccal mass. "When we integrate the muscle with its natural biological structure, it's hundreds to 1,000 times better," says CWRU professor Ozan Akkus.
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