Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Lab Report: Toys and Real-Life Whales Inspire Biohybrid Robots

Biohybrid Robot
Image by Patricio Sarzosa.

Drawing inspiration from biology and the toy shelf, Dartmouth engineering Professor Zi Chen’s team and researchers at the City University of Hong Kong have developed a swimming robot with a light-controlled cellular engine that can perform highly-targeted drug delivery.

Researchers combined cardiac tissue engineering, a 3D-printed wing structure and a light-sensitive gel to produce the soft robot with start-stop capability. The switchable device transforms its shape when exposed to skin-penetrating near-infrared light, causing it to drive and brake through fluid environments like the human blood stream.

The transformable device dramatically improves the usefulness of robots designed to work inside the human body and other unconventional work environments.

The research team at City University of Hong Kong produced the original robot design and performed the experimental tests. The Dartmouth team performed mechanical and numerical analysis on the device and suggested changes to design elements like size and shape.

“With this technology we can create soft transformable robots with unprecedented maneuverability,” said Chen, an assistant professor of engineering at Thayer. “Our inspiration came from transformable toys that have different configurations and functionality. The result is no toy, it may literally change people’s lives.”

The robot’s high sensitivity to near-infrared light creates a response rate that allows an almost immediate transformation of wing shape, allowing it to be highly maneuverable. In the study, researchers used the “unprecedented controllability and responsiveness” of the floating-plane robot as a cargo carrier to conduct targeted drug delivery against cancer cells.

“We literally dropped drug bombs on cancer cells,” said Chen. “The realization of the transformable concept paves a pathway for potential development of next-generation intelligent biohybrid robotic systems.”

—David Hirsch

Categories: The Great Hall, Lab Reports

Tags: engineering in medicine, faculty, innovation, projects, research

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