Organismal engineering: Toward a robotic taxonomic key for devices using organic materials

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Science Robotics  29 Nov 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 12, eaap9281
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aap9281
  • Fig. 1 Timeline of achievements in biohybrid and organic robots.

    (Top) Although in its infancy, the field of biohybrid and organic robots is growing quickly, and many papers on organobots, biohybrid robots, and cyborg drones have been published in the past few years. (Bottom) During the past two decades, many exciting devices have been developed, as indicated by the small selection provided here. These devices are color-coded to indicate the organic components as outlined by the RTK (bottom left; see Fig. 2 for RTK details).

  • Fig. 2 The RTK and examples of its usage.

    (A) The RTK consists of four wedges: structure, actuation, sensing, and control. Each wedge can be shaded or patterned to visually describe robotic devices. (B) Application of the RTK to an organism-based robot (146, 147). The device uses a beetle as a base that provides organic structure, actuation, sensing, and control. However, it is augmented with synthetic structures and control. As a result, sensing and actuation have solid colored fills, and control and structure have striped fills. Image reprinted with permission of Springer. (C) Application of the RTK to a synthetic robot (148). Because no components are organic and the robot has all four components, each branch has a solid white fill. (D) Application of the RTK to a biohybrid device with genetically engineered components (33). The cells have been modified to respond to light; as a consequence, the sensing wedge has a dot pattern.

  • Fig. 3 Examples of cardiomyocyte-powered devices.

    (A) Three-legged crawler driven by cardiomyocyte actuation of long cantilever-based legs (34). Images reprinted with permission from (34). (B) Spermatozoa-inspired biohybrid device that swims due to cardiomyocytes driving the actuation of a long filamentous tail (31). Images reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers (31). (C) Jellyfish-inspired device in which micropatterning is used to direct the growth of cardiomyocytes seeded on the radial arms (32). Image reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers (32). (D) Stingray-inspired device powered by optogenetically modified cardiomyocytes to facilitate steering (33).

  • Fig. 4 Examples of skeletal muscle–powered devices.

    (A) Crawling device driven by contraction of a cell/gel tissue construct supported by a 3D-printed structure (45). (B) Micropositioning platform suspended by optogenetically modified cell/gel muscle actuators, which allow the position and rotation of the platform to be controlled via light stimuli (44). Reprinted with permission from (44). (C) Stationary culture system in which cells are seeded in a gel mixture around flexible pillars. Deflection of the pillars allows the contraction force to be calculated (43). Adapted from (43) with permission of the Royal Society of Chemistry. (D) Completely organic device using ELAC as a substrate (21).

  • Fig. 5 Examples of organic sensing in robotics.

    (A) Robot capable of olfactory sensing via electroantennograms. Electrical signals are recorded from the antennae of an intact moth and used to control the heading of a wheeled robotic platform to track odor plumes (66). (B) Robot capable of wall following due to the visual sensory input from H1 cells of a blowfly mounted on a wheeled robotic platform (62, 63).

  • Fig. 6 Examples of organic control in robotics.

    (A) Neurons cultured on a multielectrode array (75). (B) Wheeled mobile platform with organic control resulting in wall following (80). Image reprinted with permission from (80).

  • Fig. 7 Examples of organism-based systems.

    (A) Bacterium-driven microtube. The bacterium is trapped in the tube and serves as an actuator (101). (B) Swarm of Euglena that can be steered via light stimuli. The swarm can be used to move microparticles (105). Images reprinted with permission from Springer. (C) Wirelessly controlled cockroach that can be steered remotely via neural implants (111). Image used with permission of the Royal Society. (D) Mud eel–driven endoscope. The locomotion of the eel is controlled via surface-mount electrodes on the tail, allowing controlled locomotion (114).

  • Fig. 8 Allometric scaling of select biohybrid and organic devices.

    (A) Length-velocity scaling of biohybrid and organic robots as compared with animals with similar locomotion types and environments on a log-log scale. Overall, the speed of robotic devices is about two orders of magnitude lower than that of similarly sized animals. (B) Reynolds number–velocity relationship of biohybrid and organic robots compared with animals with similar locomotion types and environments on a log-log scale. Overall, the robotic devices function in a lower Reynolds number regime, indicating the need for improvements in velocity, or attention to appropriate modes of locomotion.

  • Table 1 Examples of the organic/synthetic makeup and performance of existing devices.

    Selected papers detailing the synthetic (S) or organic (O) components of devices incorporating biological components in the previously described categories: structure (Str.), actuation (Act.), sensing (Sens.), and control (Con.). Relevant metrics for the devices are reported as available: velocity in body lengths (BL)/s for locomoting device and success rate (S.R.), where success rate is the percentage of total trials in which the devices successfully accomplished the locomotion task tested (e.g., following a line of a certain length). Dash entries indicate a lack of the specified component in the device. Blank entries indicate performance metrics that were not reported for a given device.

    PaperYearStr.Act.Sens.Con.BLVel. (BL/s)S.R.%
    Kuwana et al. (50)1995SSOS
    Beer et al. (149)1998SSSS
    Webb and Consilvio (150)2001SSSS
    Herr and Dennis (46)*2004SOS120 cm0.33
    Xi et al. (24)*2005SO138 μm0.27
    Kim et al. (151)2006SO
    Feinberg et al. (27)*2007SO3–6 mm0.008–0.045
    Kim et al. (25)*2007SO2.5 mm0.034
    Sato et al. (108, 109)2010S/OOOS/O56
    Takemura et al. (19)2010OO2 mm0.003
    Warwick et al. (152)2010SSSS/O46
    Hayashi et al. (80)2011SSSS/O80
    Chan et al. (26)*2012SO7 mm0.033
    Kim et al. (98)*2012S/OSOO10–20 μm0.13–0.329
    Latif and Bozkurt (112)2012S/OOOS/O10
    Nawroth et al. (32)*2012SO2 mm0.4–0.7
    Zhu et al. (114)*2012S/OOOS/O380 ± 20 mm0.046
    Magdanz et al. (107)*2013S/OS/OS300 μm0.016–0.033
    Cvetkovic et al. (45)*2014SO6 mm0.026
    Ijspeert (153)2014SSSS
    Martinez et al. (66)2014SSOS96
    Park et al. (99)2014S/OOOO80
    Williams et al. (31)*2014SO2 mm0.005
    Barroso et al. (100)*2015S/OOOO2 μm3.5
    Huang and Krapp (63)2015SSOS/O42
    Sanchez et al. (111)2015S/OOOS/O70
    Holley et al. (28)*2016S/OO9.2 mm0.015
    Li and Zhang (97)2016S/OOOS/O89.5
    Park et al. (33)*2016SOOS14 mm0.23
    Webster et al. (21)*2016OO4 mm0.003
    Webster et al. (48)*2016S/OO4 cm0.003

    *Inclusion of the reported device in allometric scaling analysis (see the “Allometric scaling in robots with organic components” section).

    Supplementary Materials

    • Supplementary Materials

      Supplementary Material for:

      Organismal engineering: Toward a robotic taxonomic key for devices using organic materials

      Victoria A. Webster-Wood,* Ozan Akkus, Umut A. Gurkan, Hillel J. Chiel, Roger D. Quinn*

      *Corresponding author. Email: rdq{at} (R.D.Q.); vaw4{at} (V.A.W.-W.)

      Published 29 November 2017, Sci. Robot. 2, eaap9281 (2017)
      DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aap9281

      This PDF file includes:

      • Fig. S1. Dichotomous key.
      • Fig. S2. Taxonomy.
      • Table S1. Example of dichotomous key usage.

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