Introducing the grobyC--the Inverse of a Cyborg
A cyborg is the use of machines and artifacts to replace living tissue in a living organism. A grobyc is merely the inverse of a cyborg--the use of living tissue to replace machinery in a machine. The scientists from South Korea have created a grobyc!
According to Chemical Science, Sukho Park of the Nano/Micro System Laboratory at the Seoul National University and his colleagues "made the robot by growing heart muscle tissue from a rat onto tiny robotic skeletons made from polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)."primidi
You can see above how the scientists prepared their microrobot: (a) Single heart cells isolated from neonatal rat heart. (b) PDMS structure prepared for culture of cardiomyocytes on its surface. (c) Primary cardiomyocytes on the culture dish containing the PDMS structure. (d) Culture of cardiomyocytes. (e) Transfer of PDMS structure into a new culture dish to observe movement. (f) Schematic image to observe vertical movement. (g) Microscopic image of vertical view. (h) Schematic image to observe lateral movement. (i) Microscopic image of lateral movement. (Credit: Sukho Park and his colleagues)
Okay, this is not the first grobyc. Back in 2004, scientists used an array of 25,000 rat brain neurons to fly a simulated F-22 fighter jet. The scientists from South Korea have extended the concept to muscle as linear robot actuators. That is quite clever.
Nanotechnologists, if they are smart, borrow shamelessly from biological mechanisms and proofs of concept. It should not surprise us that roboticists would likewise borrow from biology to solve difficult problems in the actuation of autonomous robots.
Muscle is an excellent linear actuator, and is powered by simple nutrients that can be obtained easily. When muscles grow weak or scarred, losing their normal function, a good method of replacing them within living organisms--such as people--would be quite convenient. Fortunately, Pittsburgh scientists have located adult stem cells within the walls of blood vessels that fit the task perfectly. Palliatives for muscular dystrophy or scarred hear walls may be within reach.
Back to the grobyC. How far, do you think, can scientists go in using living tissue and biological ingredients in robots and other machines? The South Korean scientists used cardiomyocytes from the Sprague-Dawley rat. What if they wanted to use the entire heart of the rat as a mechanical pump? Or the digestive system as a way of processing nutrients for the pump and actuators? Or the rat brain as a controller for the grobyc, as the US investigators did in 2004?
At what point does the grobyc become cyborg?