Many robotic designs take nature as their muse: sticking to walls like geckos, swimming through water like tuna, sprinting across terrain like cheetahs. Such designs borrow properties from nature, using engineered materials and hardware to mimic animals’ behavior.
Scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania have genetically engineered muscle cells to flex in response to light, and are using the light-sensitive tissue to build highly articulated robots. This “bio-integrated” approach, as they call it, may one day enable robotic animals that move with the strength and flexibility of their living counterparts.
The group’s design effectively blurs the boundary between nature and machines, says Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
“With bio-inspired designs, biology is a metaphor, and robotics is the tool to make it happen,” says Asada, who is a co-author on the paper. “With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor. This is a new direction we’re pushing in biorobotics.”