New York, July 19 (IANS) Combining tissues from a sea slug with flexible 3D printed components, researchers have built a "cyborg" robot that may one day help them probe the depths of fresh and saltwater with ease.
The "biohybrid" robot with the ability to crawl like sea turtles was developed by the researchers at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio.
"We're building a living machine -- a biohybrid robot that's not completely organic yet," said Victoria Webster who is leading the research.
A muscle from the slug's mouth provides the movement which is currently controlled by an external electrical field.
However, future iterations of the device will include ganglia -- bundles of neurons and nerves that normally conduct signals to the muscle as the slug feeds, as an organic controller.
Webster will discuss mining the sea slug for materials and constructing the hybrid, which is a little under two inches long, at the Living Machines conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, to be held from July 19 to 22.
The potential usage of biohybrid robots could be in locating the source of a toxic leak in a pond or searching the ocean floor for a black box flight data recorder.
The researchers chose the sea slug because the animal is durable down to its cells, withstanding substantial changes in temperature, salinity and more as Pacific Ocean tides shift its environment between deep water and shallow pools.
Compared to mammal and bird muscles, which require strictly controlled environments to operate, the slugs are much more adaptable.
For the searching tasks, "we want the robots to be compliant, to interact with the environment," Webster said. "One of the problems with traditional robotics, especially on the small scale, is that actuators--the units that provide movement - tend to be rigid," she added.