Aquatic “Cyborg” Uses Living Cells to Swim; There Is No Escape

In case you thought the robots would steer clear of water.
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Scientists often look to biological organisms to inspire how robots should move and function in order to design efficient machines, but this new creation has taken that a step further. This aquatic cyborg, inspired by rays, uses living cells for its locomotion and light-sensitive proteins as circuitry as a true combination of science and nature.

It’s important for robots to conserve energy, as they’re still generally not as good at it as living organisms, and rays use simple movements of their flat bodies for very energy-efficient swimming. This little robot won’t exactly be swimming in open waters any time soon, though, as the unique composition of muscle cells—cardiomyocytes from rats—that make up its body requires that it operate in a special solution of salt and sugar to function.

It doesn’t run on electricity, either, instead using the simple sugar glucose as its power source, which is a natural fit for its living muscle cells. When light of a certain wavelength is flashed in front of it, as you can see in the video above (and even clearer here), it triggers the light sensitive innards to allow ions to flow to the muscle cells in a similar manner to how nerve cells would trigger them to contract. With the cells grown along a carefully planned framework, they pass that initial signal along in a way that mimics a real sea-dweller’s body movements. (The directional movement to pass through an obstacle course is controlled by varying the frequency of the light pulses on each side of the cyborg.)

To be practical elsewhere, the robot would have to be able to carry its life-giving solution around with it in some kind of external skin, but it’s a pretty neat proof-of-concept and an eerily synthetic life form as it is.

(via Ars Technica and Science, image via Science)

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.