Humanoid machines of the future might lose layers of steel and plastic after a shocking experiment revealed scientists can create lab-grown skin tissues and muscles.
Scientists at the Institute of Industrial Sciences, University of Tokyo, claim to have successfully integrated human muscles with robots in an incredible new study.
The researchers developed a so-called biohybrid robot out of muscle tissue wrapped around a robotic skeleton, which they kept alive and functioning for a week.
Study lead author Yuya Morimoto said the development has opened up the doors for bioengineers to one day grow full-blown limbs in labs.
He said: “Our findings show that using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger.
“If we can combine more of these muscles into a single device, we should be able to reproduce the complex muscular interplay that allow hands, arms, and other parts of the body to function.”
The incredible achievement was accomplished by building individual muscle precursor cells into muscle-cell-filled sheets and then functional skeletal muscle tissues.
The tissues used in the experiment were built from scratch, rather than being extracted from a living organism, with the use of hydrogel sheets containing muscle precursor cells called myoblasts.
The lab-grown tissues were then merged with a biohybrid robot to create something loosely resembling a human finger.
The robotic frame included rotating joints and anchors where the muscles were attached to.
Electrodes sending small shock impulses would make the muscles contract and relax much like the human body does.
Co-author Shoji Takeuchi explained: “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.
“The fact that they were exerting opposing forces on each other stopped them shrinking and deteriorating, like in previous studies.”
The scientists tested the robo-finger by having it successfully lift up and put down a ring.
Two of the lab creations working in tandem were also able to pick up a 3D-printed square frame.
However, the scientists stressed in the study there is still “room for improvement” in terms of the robot’s dexterity and lifetime.
The researchers found using electrodes to stimulate the muscles eventually led to tissue degradation from electrolysis.
But the scientists concluded the outlined limitations can be overcome in the future for more intricate cyborg machines.
The study said: “We believe that a biohybrid robot with a more complex composition will be constructable in the future.”
The findings of the research were published this week in the science journal Science Robotics.