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Live cells and tissues cultured in microfluidic in vitro environment can be used as components of a robot. Skeletal muscles, for example, have the potential to be effective actuators for powering a micro -robot or an artificial â€œanimalâ€. Muscle strips can be formed from their precursory cells, myoblasts, by guiding them through multi-stage myogenic process. Muscle strips self-assembled together with a robotic structure can activate a high DOF micro mechanism, for which there is no actuator technology currently available. Such live biological materials will be a game-changing technology in designing robotic systems and extending their applications to broader fields. This talk will introduce the state-of-the-art of bio-artificial muscles and other key biological components, and address potentials and challenges of bio-integrated robots. Three thrusts of bioengineering and control technologies will be highlighted. First, skeletal muscle cells are genetically altered so that each muscle strip can be controlled individually with high spatiotemporal resolution: Optogenetics. When exposed to a light beam, a group of light-sensitive muscle strips contract locally and dynamically, creating multi DOF motion in a compact body. Second, a new culturing technique is develope d for creating 3-D fascicle-like muscle constructs, which is a key step for scaling up the bio-artificial muscles to a large-scale functional muscle. Finally, a new stochastic control method for controlling a population of cells and micro-tissues will be discussed. While individual cells and tissues are inevitably heterogeneous and stochastic, their population behaviors are stable and functional in a wide range. A new approach is needed for in vitro control of cells and tissues to assure robust, reliable behaviors. The talk will conclude with future research agenda on Bio-Bots at the NSF Science and Technology Center, Emergent Behaviors of Integrative Cellular Systems, where the speakerâ€™s group has been participating.
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