Engineers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created a tiny walking mechanism powered by cardiac cells. The 7 millimeter long device is manufactured from a hydrogel using a 3D printer. It consists of two “legs” of different sizes, one having rat cardiomyocytes deposited on its surface. When the heart cells beat, the leg of the microbot moves along with their rhythm propelling the device forward.
The beating of the heart cells can be affected by their environment, and so the research team envisions such biologically powered miniature devices to serve all sorts of functions from medical body sensors to drug screening tools.
From University of Illinois:
The team uses a 3-D printing method common in rapid prototyping to make the main body of the bot from hydrogel, a soft gelatin-like polymer. This approach allowed the researchers to explore various conformations and adjust their design for maximum speed. The ease of quickly altering design also will allow them to build and test other configurations with an eye toward potential applications.
Next, the team will work to enhance control and function, such as integrating neurons to direct motion or cells that respond to light. They are also working on creating robots of different shapes, different numbers of legs, and robots that could climb slopes or steps.
Open access article in Scientific Reports: Development of Miniaturized Walking Biological Machines