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Home Robotics: Technology, News & Trends Tokyo University Research Unveils Two-Legged Robot Driven by Muscle Tissue

Tokyo University Research Unveils Two-Legged Robot Driven by Muscle Tissue

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Two legged- biohybrid robot

Compared to robots, human limbs are extremely flexible, capable of fine movements and efficiently converting energy into motion. Inspired by human gait, Japanese researchers have combined muscle tissue and synthetic materials to create a bipedal bio-hybrid robot that can walk and rotate. A related paper was published in the 26th issue of the journal Matter.

The bio-hybrid robot is a fusion of biology and mechanics, which is a new field of robotics featuring biological functions, said Shoji Takeuchi, corresponding author of the paper and a professor at the University of Tokyo in Japan. Using muscles as actuators, the researchers can build a compact robot with efficient, silent movements enabled by a soft touch.

Flexible substrate

The robot has an innovative bipedal design that builds on previous bio-hybrid robots that utilized muscles. Currently, muscle tissue can already drive bio-hybrid robots to crawl forward, swim in a straight line, and turn, but not to make sharp turns. However, the ability to rotate and turn sharply is an essential characteristic required for a robot to avoid obstacles.

To build a robot with more agile and refined movements, the researchers designed a bio-hybrid robot that mimics human gait and operates in water. The robot has a foam buoy top and weighted legs that help it stand upright underwater. The robot’s skeleton is made primarily of silicone rubber that flexes to accommodate muscle movement. The researchers then attached strips of lab-grown skeletal muscle tissue to the silicone rubber and the two legs.

Lifting

When the researchers electrically stimulated the muscle tissue, the muscles contracted and lifted the legs; when the current died down, the heels landed forward. By alternating electrical stimulation between the left and right legs every five seconds, the biohybrid robot completed the walk at a speed of 5.4 mm/min.

To turn, the researchers repeatedly tapped the right leg every 5 seconds while using the left leg as an anchor point. The robot completed a 90-degree left turn in 62 seconds.

Before upgrading the robot with more biological components, the researchers said the team had to integrate a nutrient supply system to maintain the living tissue and device structure that would allow the robot to operate in the air.

Over the years, many scientists have endeavored to make robots “evolve” to be more human-like: not only have they been tuned to talk and think like humans, but they have also become more human-like in appearance. This can be very useful. For example, if the food delivery robots in hotels, the diagnostic robots in hospitals, and the escort robots in nursing homes are all hard and cold from appearance to speech, the user experience will be greatly reduced. On the contrary, if we can make these service robots look and chat more like people, it will allow users to experience the robot’s “temperature”, thus greatly enhancing the value of service robots.

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