'Biohybrid' robot built with sea slug tissue could be used to find toxins, black boxes

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have created a “biohybrid” robot that’s capable of crawling around underwater like a sea turtle on a beach. In doing so, it could be used to seek out potentially dangerous toxins in lakes or ponds — or even comb the ocean floor in search of lost flight data recorders, also known as black boxes.

A collaboration between researchers in the robotics, biomechanics, and biology departments of the university, the biohybrid robot is made up of tissues from a sea slug combined with flexible 3D-printed components.

“A biohybrid robot is a synthetic device powered by muscle tissue or cells,” Victoria Webster, a Ph.D. student who is leading the research, tells Digital Trends. “The contraction of the muscle causes the device to move around. Previously, such devices have used cells from mammals or birds, which require very specific environments to function. The sea slug, on the other hand, is very robust. It lives in the intertidal region in the ocean and experiences huge temperature and salinity changes. As a result, its cells are also very robust.”


Case’s biohybrid robot is capable of functioning in both fresh water and seawater, and at a wide range of temperatures. Currently, the robot is controlled by an external electrical field, although future versions may be upgraded to include ganglia, bundles of neurons and nerves, as an organic controller. Collagen from the slug’s skin will also be tested as an organic “scaffold” in later versions of the robot.


“Our long-term goal is to develop completely biocompatible robots for environmental sensing and monitoring,” Webster said. “The idea would be to release swarms of these devices in either fresh or salt water environments for continually monitoring for toxins or leaks. If the robots break down, they would just degrade or be eaten and are completely environmentally friendly, whereas traditional robots would be a source of pollution.”

While early tests with the robot showed it to be capable of moving at only around 0.4 centimeters per minute, the technology certainly has some exciting implications — particularly if you were able to unleash a whole swarm of the machine-creatures.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Thinking of buying an Instant Pot? Here's what you need to know

The Instant Pot is a powerful kitchen appliance that does everything from pressure cook to to slow cook to steam. Heck, you can even make yogurt in it. Here's all you need to know about the magic device.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.