18 March 2016

Cyborg Caterpillars

Caterpillar-like biorobots crawl into the light

Margarita Paimakova, "Vesti" based on the materials of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Light illuminates the way for bio-bots

A new class of biological robots, developed by specialists from the University of Illinois, is programmed to move towards light like an insect. The new technique allowed scientists to create small biorobots that can "walk" independently and react to light stimuli.


The invention works as follows: miniature biorobots are driven by rings of muscle tissue grown from mouse cells. Genetically, these cells are programmed to react when stimulated by light – this approach is called optogenetics.

The muscle tissue is grown in modular ring shapes, similar to tiny hair bands, which are then wrapped around a 3D-printed flexible frame, the length of which ranges from seven millimeters to two centimeters. Since muscle rings have a modular structure, they can be combined to create biorobots of various sizes and shapes for a variety of applications.

"With the help of rings, we can connect any two joints of a 3D-printed skeleton," explains the study's lead author Rashid Bashir. – We can, for example, create a robot that will have several legs. With the help of light, we will be able to control the direction of its movement. Now others can use our achievements to create complex functioning systems."

The researchers experimented with a number of different sizes and shapes to find the most effective configuration in terms of movement. The result was a biorobot similar to a caterpillar of a moth. Contractions of his muscle rings were caused by flashing light. As a result, the biorobot was able to crawl and even jump.

It is expected that in the future these miniature devices will find application in diagnostics, medicine and sensing.

You can read about how caterpillar-like robots were created in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Raman et al., Optogenetic skeletal muscle-powered adaptive biological machines).

Recall that earlier we have already written about the work of specialists from the University of Illinois on the creation of miniature biorobots powered by muscle cells.

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