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July 17, 2014

Engineers have created small robots powered by actual muscle cells.



Robots with real muscle. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Robots powered by actual muscle cells may lead to a new generation of hybrid devices. The design team includes bioengineer Rashid Bashir of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They grafted skeletal muscle cells onto a 3-D printed structure, creating small, inchworm-like robots.

RASHID BASHIR (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign):

As the muscles beat, or contract, then you get this net motion, where during one cycle, there is this difference in adhesion between the front and the back leg. And so the structure ends up moving forward.

His team controls the muscles with an electric field, but ultimately they’d like to use nerve cells. One big challenge is keeping the cells alive. The small prototype robots can last for several days in a nutritious liquid. But for larger machines that can work outside the lab, Bashir says they’ll need to design artificial circulatory systems. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.