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article imageRat heart muscle used to make robot stingray

By Tim Sandle     Jul 17, 2016 in Science
An artificial stingray has been made by technologists and its ‘heart’ is cardiac muscle extracted from a rat. Light is used to cause the heart muscle to contract, thereby creating movement.
The development of the ‘living robot’ was undertaken to see how animal tissue can be integrated with robotic parts. The resultant aqua-robot is no larger than half-an-inch in length and it weighs just 10 grams.
The robot has been designed to swim through liquids, using an undulating motion, as a stingray might traverse the ocean. This swimming motion is undertaken through 200,000 genetically engineered rat heart-muscle cells (or cardiomyocytes.) These are affixed to the underside of the robot.
The motion is controlled by light activation. Here pulses of light are used to allow the device to move and to twist and turn to avoid obstacles. The light pulses can be controlled using a remote control device.
This is where living cells were found to have an advantage over mechanical constructs. When robots were designed from full robotic parts they could not match the agility of the device constructed from the genetically modified rat heart tissue.
Speaking with Popular Mechanics, Kit Parker, who works at Harvard and who led the research team that developed the strange robot, said: “Roughly speaking, we made this thing with a pinch of rat cardiac cells, a pinch of breast implant, and a pinch of gold. That pretty much sums it up, except for the genetic engineering.”
The stingray robot is constructed from four sequential layers of material. The upper layer is composed of silicone material cast in a titanium mold. This provides a flexible body. Inside there is a patterning dissociated rat cardiomyocytes on an elastomeric body, and these are enclosed within the microfabricated outer skeleton.
The motion of the stingray robot is shown in the video below:
The news of the half-robot, half-living creature is currently trending high on Twitter's science feeds.
The design of the robot has been described in the journal Science. The paper is titled “Phototactic guidance of a tissue-engineered soft-robotic ray.”
More about robot stingray, Robotics, Cyborg, Rats, heart muscle
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