The worlds of 3D printing and robotics often collide, as we’ve seen continually—and most recently—with everything from nearly invisible hydrogel robots to those capable of doing pushups and sweating. And while scientists predict that one day you may see robots walking right out of your 3D printer, today we are taking a look at bio-bots that seem like they may have walked right out of a sci-fi movie.
Created by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these bio-bots locomote via a true system of muscle cells, powered by electronics. The team, headed by Rashid Bashir, has shared their recipe for building these futuristic machines in a recent Nature Protocols article. In ‘A modular approach to the design, fabrication, and characterization of muscle-powered biological machines,’ by Ritu Raman, Caroline Cvetkovic, and Rashid Bashir, you can take an entirely new DIY approach to the world of bots.
“The protocol teaches every step of building a bio-bot, from 3D printing the skeleton to tissue engineering the skeletal muscle actuator, including manufacturers and part numbers for every single thing we use in the lab,” explained Ritu Raman, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioengineering and the study’s first author.
“This protocol is essentially intended to be a one-stop reference for any scientist around the world who wants to replicate the results we showed in our PNAS 2016 and PNAS 2014 papers, and give them a framework for building their own bio-bots for a variety of applications.”
As the authors discuss in their paper, these biological machines can adapt to their environment. They also point out that 3D printing has been a major impetus for the progress seen here in robotics, through allowing such advances in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The biomaterials of today now allow for the creation of what the researchers call “smart responsive machines,” able to work in a range of different applications.
The team has been working on their bio-bots for years, also dabbling in hydrogels, accompanied by live tissue. They unveiled their walking bots in 2012, with the stunning information that they were powered by live heart tissue gleaned from rats. While this was quite a leap, the researchers kept refining their bots and the tissue they were using as the heart cells contracted too much to allow for optimum control over the electronics.
“The 3D printing revolution has given us the tools required to ‘build with biology’ in this way. We re-designed the 3D-printed injection mold to produce skeletal muscle ‘rings’ that could be manually transferred to any of a wide variety of bio-bot skeletons. These rings were shown to produce passive and active tension forces similar to those generated by muscle strips,” Raman said.
“Using optogenetics techniques, we worked with collaborators at MIT to genetically engineer a light-responsive skeletal muscle cell line that could be stimulated to contract by pulses of 470-nm blue light. The resultant optogenetic muscle rings were coupled to multi-legged bio-bot skeletons with symmetric geometric designs. Localized stimulation of contraction, rendered possible by the greater spatiotemporal control of light stimuli over electrical stimuli, was used to drive directional locomotion and 2D rotational steering.”
In writing the paper and releasing their bio-bot ‘recipe,’ the researchers are hoping to see others not only appreciate and re-create their work—but to improve on it as well. The team hopes this is just the beginning as scientists everywhere are able to begin meeting current challenges in medicine and science. Discuss in the 3D Printed Bio-Bots forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Phys.org]
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