Killer cyborgs with superhuman strength move a step closer after scientists combine muscles made from living tissue with a machine
- Scientists have created a biohybrid robotic finger that uses real muscle
- It uses antagonistic muscle pairs grown from rat cells and can bend up to 90°
- The muscles were developed in a lab and survived for more than a week
- It could pave the way for cyborgs of the future to have muscle fibres incorporated with a robotic skeleton
Human-robot hybrids could be in the pipeline as Japanese scientists have succeeded in merging muscle fibres with a robotic skeleton.
Previous attempts at this have been short-lived and prone to failure.
A new study took a different approach and grew the muscles from scratch, instead of taking a muscle that had grown inside an animal.
This discovery could pave the way for superhuman cyborgs, but scientists say larger-scale applications are at least a decade away.
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Biorobotics is a developing area of science which aims to combine the best of the natural world with the best of the field of robotics. A new study succeeded in merging muscle fibres to a robotic skeleton
The cross-over project is a breakthrough in the field of biorobotics, as it uses fully-functioning skeletal muscle tissue.
A common issue facing scientists before was that the muscles had a tendency to lose their strength and shrink.
Lead author Yuya Morimoto, of the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science, overcame these issues.
His new method ensures the muscles are stronger and more durable than previous attempts.
Human-robot hybrids could be in the pipeline as Japanese scientists have succeeded in merging muscle fibres with a robotic skeleton. This discovery could pave the way for superhuman cyborgs, but scientists say larger-scale applications are at least a decade away
To do this, the researchers needed to use special sheets which contained myoblasts – muscle precursor cells – from rats.
Over the course of ten days, the muscles slowly grew on the skeleton.
The muscles were eight mm long in total and able to contract with a force of 10 mN.
Full range of motion of the finger allowed it to bend by around 90° and even pick up and move a plastic ring.
The muscles survived and functioned well for more than a week, far exceeding what others had done previously.
‘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,’ study corresponding author Shoji Takeuchi says.
‘The fact that they were exerting opposing forces on each other stopped them shrinking and deteriorating, like in previous studies.’
The cross-over project is a breakthrough in the field of biorobotics, as it uses fully-functioning skeletal muscle tissue
For simplicity, the researchers used antagonistic pairs to demonstrate the functionality of the hybrid.
These are pairs of muscles which work in direct opposition to one another in order to perform a simple function.
For example, the bicep and tricep form an antagonistic pair as they work in opposition to either straighten the arm or bend it.
The new method ensures the muscles are stronger and more durable than previous attempts. Rather than extract and use a muscle that had fully formed in the body, the team opted to built one from scratch
The scientists hope to build on their success and develop ever more complex arrangements of the human body to replicate with their biohybrid.
‘Our findings show that, using this antagonistic arrangement of muscles, these robots can mimic the actions of a human finger,’ lead author Yuya Morimoto says.
‘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.’
Dr Murimoto told MailOnline that although this result is promising ‘ten years are required’ before larger-scale robotic applications will be a reality.
The muscles were eight mm long in total and able to contract with a force of 10 mN. Full range of motion of the finger allowed it to bend by around 90° and even pick up and move a plastic ring
HOW DO MUSCLES WORK?
Muscles form an intricate network of sinews throughout the body of animals.
They respond to electrical stimulation which is carried from the brain to the muscle via nerves.
There are different types of muscle, which are often made of different types of tissue.
For example, the heart, which never stops beating, is made of a different material to skeletal muscle.
Skeletal muscle is attached to one end of a bone. It stretches all the way across a joint (the place where two bones meet) and then attaches again to another bone.
Skeletal muscles are held to the bones with tendons.
Once the electrical signal reaches the muscle it triggers a contraction.
This is done by two types of protein overlapping and working against each other.
A thick filament composed of the protein myosin and a thin filament composed of the protein actin.
Muscle contraction occurs when these filaments slide over one another in a series of repetitive events.
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