Swarms could one day search the depths of fresh and saltwater
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have combined tissues from a sea slug with flexible 3-D printed components to build “biohybrid” robots that crawl like sea turtles on the beach.
A muscle from the slug’s mouth provides the movement, which is currently controlled by an external electrical field. However, future iterations of the device will include ganglia, bundles of neurons and nerves that normally conduct signals to the muscle as the slug feeds, as an organic controller.
The researchers also manipulated collagen from the slug’s skin to build an organic scaffold to be tested in new versions of the robot.
In the future, swarms of biohybrid robots could be released for such tasks as locating the source of a toxic leak in a pond that would send animals fleeing, the scientists say. Or they could search the ocean floor for a black box flight data recorder, a potentially long process that may leave current robots stilled with dead batteries.
“We’re building a living machine—a biohybrid robot that’s not completely organic—yet,” said Victoria Webster, a PhD student who is leading the research. Webster will discuss mining the sea slug for materials and constructing the hybrid, which is a little under 2 inches long, at the Living Machines conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, this week.