Bioengineers at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana have built prototypes of living robots – and they’ve just shared their blueprint in a journal so other scientists can build their own.
The researchers genetically engineered a line of muscle cells that would contract in the presence of blue light, then 3D-printed the cells in rings that would fit into a range of gel structures. The structures, about a quarter-inch in size so far, hold their shape but are flexible. By controlling the muscle rings’ contractions, the engineers can steer the robots.
Inside the structures, the cell rings are bathed in a nutrient solution. Future generations will have larger nutrient reserves built into the gel structures so the cells can live longer and travel farther.
The scientists foresee a time when their living robots could assemble themselves and adapt to different environments.