Enabling bioinspired robotic systems
Biohybrid soft robotics is an emerging field that combines material science, biomechanics, sensing, and cells. The combination of technologies demonstrates advantages to traditional robotics, where the integration of biology can enhance function, chemical controls, bio-triggered responses such as contraction, low mass/power ratios, and self-healing capabilities upon damage. In broader terms, such bio-integrated robots can be used for cell assays, biosensors, and devices with specific mechanical functions such as swimming, walking, pumps, and grippers. These soft robotic functions can also provide new strategies in areas such as drug screening, tissue engineering, and drug delivery.
Bioprinting for soft robotics
Three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting allows for the fabrication of soft robotic systems with a variety of biomaterials and cell types. The advantage of bioprinting is the ability to fabricate systems with precise geometries and spatial patterning of cell types. Such systems can be further integrated or bioprinted with advanced nanomaterials and biosensors to enable more diverse controls and functions.
For example, the LUMEN X and BIO X bioprinter can be used to automate the fabrication of soft robotic systems with electrically conductive materials and cells, such as cardiomyocytes that can be monitored electrically and mechanically and screened with drugs to monitor contractive effects. Such combinatorial approaches can also be used to pump drug reservoirs based on chemical cues in the environment. Additionally, by combining more robust robotic mechanical functions with bioprinted patterns, tissue maturations can be accelerated especially for tissues that normally function in contractive or impact force environments, such as bone and muscle.
A new generation of robotic systems is being developed that fuses biology and robotics to produce highly adaptive systems that could ultimately translate to soft, programmable devices with applications in medicine and manufacturing.