'Cyberplasm' Micro-Robot Takes Inspiration From Parasitic Fish

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This disease-hunting bot is based on the sea lamprey.

medGadget

How would you feel if a tiny robot modeled after the pesky sea lamprey (pictured) was coursing through your bloodstream, seeking out harmful diseases? It may have a face that only a mother can love, but it turns out that the sea lamprey is the perfect model for a one centimeter long prototype micro-robot being developed by Northeastern University, University of Alabama, and MIT in the U.S., and Newcastle University in the U.K. Dubbed "Cyberplasm." It's an example from a fairly new field of biological research that uses engineering principles to build useful devices from biological building blocks or make existing biological systems more effective and efficient.

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Instead of building Cyberplasm from solely mechanical components, researchers are looking to nature for inspiration. The sea lamprey was chosen as a model for the robot because it swims and has a fairly primitive nervous system that's easier to mimic electronically. Cyberplasm will also contain "eye" and "nose" sensors derived from mammalian cells and artificial muscles powered by glucose. The sensors respond to external stimuli by converting them into electric impulses that are sent to an electronic "brain", which in turn sends messages to the artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, allowing Cyberplasm to move through its environment in a lamprey-like fashion. Other sensors could also collect information about the chemical makeup of its surroundings. Researchers hope that this innovative approach of developing robots will create a device that is extremely sensitive and responsive to its environment, can swim effortlessly through the human body, and detect a wide range of diseases.


This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.

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