Robots are pretty advanced these days, but could the kind of futuristic, life-like androids that we see in Terminator and Blade Runner one day become a reality?
Up until now, the idea of creating convincingly ‘human’ robots such as Arnie Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was thought to be the stuff of fantasy. However, recent developments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have given us cause to believe that maybe one day soon, cyborgs could well be walking within our midst, and we wouldn’t even realize it.
It sounds like a far-fetched notion, but the scientists at MIT have made a significant step forward in their aim to create genetically engineered tissue that could one day be attached to robots and allow them to appear and act just like humans.
In a project that’s straight out of the sci-fi movies, MIT scientists have teamed up with researchers from Pennsylvania University to create muscle cells that flex and move in response to signals from light, as opposed to the electrical signals that command our own muscles to move.
According to MIT News, the genetically engineered tissue can already undergo a wide range of motions, and it’s hoped that this “wireless” control method will one day allow them create more flexible robots that won’t need any electric circuitry, hydraulics or a power supply.
Admittedly, there’s still some way to go before we’ll need to worry about cyborg assassins hunting us down. The technology is in its infancy, but already the scientists have proposed several potential uses for the technology, such as a robotic device to perform endoscopies that would be small and nimble enough to worm its way through the tight spaces in the human body.
Professor Harry Asada, co-author of the paper Lab on a Chip, which describes the work, said that the technology has effectively blurred the boundary between machines and nature:
“With bio-inspired designs, biology is a metaphor, and robotics is the tool to make it happen,’ he said in a statement. ‘With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor. This is a new direction we’re pushing in biorobotics.”
Researchers came up with an ingenious test to assess the strength of their genetically engineered tissue. They attached muscle strips to two small ‘posts’ housed in a tiny micromechanical chip, before stimulating the tissue with light. Immediately, the muscles contracted, pulling the posts towards them. Scientists were then able to calculate the strength of each muscle by assessing the bent angle and stiffness of each post.
The research follows a previous experiment at Harvard University, which saw scientists grow ‘cyborg flesh’ for the first time – human tissue grown around a complex scaffolding of nanowires and transistors. Unlike this latest effort however, the Harvard researchers haven’t attempted to remote control the tissue, instead focusing on how they can ‘wire it up’ to receive data.