Researchers at Case Western Reserve University that they built a cyborg robot out of 3D-printed material and muscle tissue from a sea slug. The robot could play a future role in underwater exploration and rescues.
The robot is very small, only about 2 inches long, and has an outer shell made of flexible 3D-printed polymer. The researchers used a sea slug muscle fiber called the I2 to move the robot, and they controlled the muscle by applying an electric field, which causes the muscle to contract.
The researchers envision that their robot could help with underwater exploration tasks, like locating the source of a toxic leak on the ocean floor, or helping to find an airplane's black box data recorder. Because these robots are made of organic components, they are well-suited to this kind of work in ocean environments. They can easily handle large changes in temperature and salinity, and if they are lost they simply decompose.
In the future, the researchers hope to replace the 3D-printed outer shell with an organic one made from sea slug skin cells. They also hope to replace the electric field that currently controls the robot's movement with a specialized set of nerve cells. These nerve cells will give the robot much more exact control of its movement. Crucially, it will also make the robot capable of learning. The researchers hope to train future versions of the robot to move forward or backward in response to certain signals.