Living muscles of humans can now be integrated into robots, research at The University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science finds.
The team developed a new method that progresses from individual muscle precursor cells, to muscle-cell-filled sheets, and then to fully functioning skeletal muscle tissues.
The team incorporated these muscles into a biohybrid robot as antagonistic pairs mimicking those in the body to achieve remarkable robot movement and continued muscle function for over a week.
"Once we had built the muscles, we successfully used them as antagonistic pairs in the robot, with one contracting and the other expanding, just like in the body," study corresponding author Shoji Takeuchi says. "The fact that they were exerting opposing forces on each other stopped them shrinking and deteriorating, like in previous studies."
The team also tested the robots in different applications, including having one pick up and place a ring, and having two robots work in unison to pick up a square frame. The results showed that the robots could perform these tasks well, with activation of the muscles leading to flexing of a finger-like protuberance at the end of the robot by around 90 degree.
"Our findings show that, using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger," lead author Yuya Morimoto says. "If we can combine more of these muscles into a single device, we should be able to reproduce the complex muscular interplay that allows hands, arms, and other parts of the body to function."