BioRobotics is defined as the collective study of cybernetics, bionics, and Genetic Engineering. It is the creation of life from a non-living matter. It is sometimes known as synthetic biology or bio-nanotechnology. You can program or design a robot to be like a living organism. Think robots that look like humans or mechanisms that can replace limbs or even the Terminator. Biorobotics has helped biologists understand these complex animal- environment relationships to make Bio-robots.
The advancement of BioRobotics can be hugely contributed to our understanding and development of Biomimicry, which is the imitation of models or systems in nature to solve human problems. One of the earliest examples is Leonardo da Vinci’s observations of birds in flight to create a sketch for human flying devices. However, as we know, his dreams didn’t reach fruition until the Wright Brothers created their first working plane. Some other examples of biomimicry include:
- Hypodermic needles were inspired by observing how snakes deliver poison through their fang
- A military tank’s continuous tread track was inspired by a caterpillar’s movements.
- Gas bombs of WWI were inspired by observing the poisonous spray released by the beetle
- StickyBot is designed to scale smooth vertical surfaces using dry adhesion. This behavior is found in geckos and other climbing lizards that employ similar compliance and force control strategies to climb smooth vertical surfaces.
- Realistic-looking biomimetic fish are used to observe ocean life without disrupting marine life. With the help of a built-in chemical sensor, they help monitor pollution levels in the ocean, hazardous leaks from vessels and underwater pipelines, and other things.
Biomimetic robots borrow their structure and senses from animals, such as birds or insects. Their abilities are copied from living organisms “animal-like” robots are playing an increasingly important link between the worlds of biology and engineering. BostonDynamics is one company that is working in this space and has created robots who have terrifyingly real dog-like movements.
BioRobotics has several applications in tactical military use, for disabled people, advancing research in biology, engineering, and other scientific fields.
An animal is affected by many complex signals within its environment, and because the animal invariably disturbs its environment, it constantly creates a new set of stimuli. A bipedal jumping and landing robot with an artificial musculoskeletal system inspired by an animal (frog) has been presented. Experiments showed the abilities of the robot to realize vertical jumping.
Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) allows direct interaction between a wired brain and an external device. This overcomes the difficulties faced by physically handicapped individuals.
- Sensors hooked to the motor cortex of the brain enable monkeys to operate the robotic arm in the same manner as their biological arm.
- Raytheon Sarcos’ Exoskeleton suit allows soldiers to do the strenuous activity without tiring.
- DSO’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program helps give amputees the ability to control their prosthetic limbs using direct brain control.
- ‘Targeted Muscle Reinnervation Technology’ has helped provide hundreds of amputees with bionic arms and legs. (Source: Targeted Muscle Reinnervation Technology and Advanced Prosthetic Arms)
A robot with a biological brain, as its name suggests, is controlled by a biological brain. The brain is a collection of neurons cultured on a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA) dish with approximately 60 electrodes. The MEA picks up the electrical signals generated by the cells and uses it to drive the robot’s movement. The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer. Its sole means of control is from its own brain.
This type of robot is used to examine how memories manifest themselves in the brain and how a brain stores specific pieces of data. It is also being used to study disorders of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. (Source: Robot with a Biological Brain, University of Reading)
Medical nanobots is an emerging field of Biorobotics, in which the engineered bots are smaller or close to the size of one nanometer.
- Nubot is an abbreviation for “nucleic acid robot.”Nubots are organic molecular machines at the nanoscale. DNA structure can provide a means to assemble 2D and 3D nanomechanical devices. DNA based machines can be activated using small molecules, proteins, and other molecules of DNA. Biological circuit gates based on DNA materials have been engineered as molecular machines to allow in-vitro drug delivery for targeted health problems.
- Scientists have genetically modified Salmonella bacteria that are drawn to tumors by chemicals secreted by cancer cells. The bacteria carry microscopic robots, about 3 micrometers in size, that automatically release capsules filled with drugs when the bacteria reach the tumor. This is how Nanorobots are helping to kill the cancer cell (Source: Targeted Cancer Therapy Using Engineered Salmonella typhimurium)
- Microbivores is a class of medical nanorobots that function similar to white blood cells. They are designed in such a way that antibodies attach to the particular bacteria the robot is seeking. After bacteria attaches to an antibody, an arm grabs the bacteria and moves it to the inside of the nanorobot, where it’s destroyed. Bacteria are then discharged into the bloodstream as harmless fragments.
Other uses of Biorobotics include:
- DDX or Disease Detector is portable equipment with the detection of response time and psychophysical conditions in normal and exceptional environments. It uses a simple joystick with a few buttons, an LCD, and a simple interface for remote communication of the diagnosis.
- Cockroach turned into fuel cell: A cockroach’s own body chemistry is used to produce electricity that can power up tiny devices. When a cockroach eats, it produces a sugar called trehalose, which is broken down by enzymes in the cockroaches blood called hemolymph.
- It takes several steps for different enzymes to finish breaking down and converting sugar for food, but in the last step, electrons are released. By tapping into the electrons through wires inserted into its body and harnessing electricity researchers were able to generate about 60 microamperes of energy
- A computer built from leech neurons The “leechulator” built from leech neuron scan perform simple addition and subtraction. It can come up with its own answer even when presented with partial information due to the ability of the neurons to make their own connections.
- Bionic eye (artificial silicone retina): With the artificial retina device, a miniature camera mounted in eyeglasses captures images and wirelessly sends the information to a microprocessor (worn on a belt) that converts the data to an electronic signal and transmits it to a receiver on the eye.