A new project at Harvard, a robotic stingray with rat muscles, showcases the advantages of copying mother nature’s own work.
We are, at this time, on our way to the new Industrial Age– a period not powered by coal, oil and blue-collar workers, but with robots that may soon replace more jobs–and the roll will be unstoppable.
In a report to humanity at the World Economic Forum of this year, scientists, engineers and other researchers exhibit how the world will shape in the next decade, with a claim that the global workforce, meaning not only in the United States, will feature more ‘borgs’ and fewer humans.
The most important part of the report is the revelation that by the year 2020, about 5 million jobs for humans will go to the machine due to the faster development in the fields of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and of 3D-printing and other related work.
That said, the developments in robotics isn’t limited to only bad news for humanity. Scientists working at laboratories around the world are looking for ways to improve robotics, not only for the expansion of the machine’s capabilities on the ground, but also to improve their capacity to help humans in various ways, including the exploration of extraterrestrial worlds.
The biological-inspired robot
One good example of which is the new research published by scientists in the peer-reviewed journal Science. It reveals that a team of scientists has created an impressive robot that exhibits a new method for building bio-inspired robots, via what they call tissue engineering.
It is a robotic project which mimics the stingray, but they didn’t farm the marine creature to recreate its body. Instead, they have engineered the machine with rat heart cells, and researchers say that it is sensitive to light.
They have chosen the stingray, or the batoid fish, because their fins move in energy-efficient waves, and it allows them to glide gracefully through water. Imitating its structure could lead to low-powered robots, a build needed in space missions where every watt counts.
The team, headed by Sung-Jin Park, has created a neutrally charged gold skeletons which mimic the shape of the fish, and they were covered by a thin layer of stretchable polymer. On the top of the robotic fish, the team has aligned rat cardiomyocytes, or muscle cells, and when stimulated, it contracts the fins downward.
And instead of adding a second layer of rat cardiomyocytes for the robot’s upward movement, the team has decided to design a gold skeleton in shape that stores some energy from the downward movements, which is later released–as the cells relax–allowing the fins to rise. The team said they can control the ‘living’ machine using pulses of light because the cardiomyocytes were genetically engineered to respond to light cues.
They have demonstrated its movements via a video, and it shows how the machine responds to asymmetrical pulses. Different frequencies of light, scientists say, can be used to control its speed, thus allowing them to guide the robot in basic obstacle course.
It is also worth noting that this robotic fish is just 16 millimeters long and weighs only 10 grams.
This robot, hopefully, will be fully developed by advancements in 3D-printing and miniature engineering; so one day, perhaps, it can join a NASA space mission–like let’s say, Europa–and help scientists find science wonders, including extraterrestrial life.