The 'living' micro-robot that could detect diseases in humans

Mar 29, 2012
The 'living' micro-robot that could detect diseases in humans
A Sea Lamprey mouth, close up

A tiny prototype robot that functions like a living creature is being developed which one day could be safely used to pinpoint diseases within the human body.

Called ‘Cyberplasm’, it will combine advanced microelectronics with latest research in biomimicry (technology inspired by nature). The aim is for Cyberplasm to have an electronic nervous system, ‘eye’ and ‘nose’ sensors derived from mammalian cells, as well as artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.

The intention is to engineer and integrate robot components that respond to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems. This is a completely innovative way of pushing robotics forward.

Cyberplasm is being developed over the next few years as part of an international collaboration funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA. The UK-based work is taking place at Newcastle University. The project originated from a ‘sandpit’ (idea gathering session) on synthetic biology jointly funded by the two organisations.

Cyberplasm will be designed to mimic key functions of the , a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro-robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into. Future uses could include the ability to swim unobtrusively through the to detect a whole range of diseases.

The sea lamprey has a very primitive nervous system, which is easier to mimic than more sophisticated nervous systems. This, together with the fact that it swims, made the sea lamprey the best candidate for the project team to base Cyberplasm on.

Once it is developed the Cyberplasm prototype will be less than 1cm long. Future versions could potentially be less than 1mm long or even built on a nanoscale.

“Nothing matches a living creature’s natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what’s going on around it,” says bioengineer Dr. Daniel Frankel of Newcastle University, who is leading the UK-based work.

Cyberplasm’s sensors are being developed to respond to external stimuli by converting them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic ‘brain’ equipped with sophisticated microchips. This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to navigate its way safely using an undulating motion.

Similarly, data on the chemical make-up of the robot’s surroundings can be collected and stored via these systems for later recovery by the ’s operators.

Cyberplasm could also represent the first step on the road to important advances in, for example, advanced prosthetics where living muscle tissue might be engineered to contract and relax in response to stimulation from light waves or electronic signals.

“We’re currently developing and testing Cyberplasm’s individual components,” says Daniel Frankel. “We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years”.

Explore further: 'Humans' star William Hurt says AI sentience is 'inevitable'

Related Stories

Shrew whiskers inspire ground-breaking robot design

Jan 23, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Etruscan shrew, one of the world’s tiniest mammals, measuring around 4 centimetres long, is the inspiration for a ground-breaking new robot developed to use sophisticated whiskers ...

Building a better robot

Mar 01, 2012

Today’s robots can vacuum floors, build cars and even perform surgery. While not quite on the intelligence level of the Jetsons’ robot maid, Rosie, they are rather smart. Nonetheless, modern robots ...

Robot, object, action!

Oct 29, 2010

Robotic demonstrators developed by European researchers produce compelling evidence that ‘thinking-by-doing’ is the machine cognition paradigm of the future. Robots act on objects and teach themselves ...

More than meets the eyeBug

Sep 23, 2011

When you think of robots, you probably think of Arnold Schwarzenegger walking round with part of his metal skull exposed in the Terminator films, or C3PO being the model of politeness in Star Wars. The field ...

Recommended for you

Autonomous robot Myon joins the cast at a Berlin opera

Jul 02, 2015

"My Square Lady" last month opened in Berlin at the Komische Oper. The outstanding feature about this production is that a character named Myon plays a key role on stage, and Myon is a robot—of the white, ...

Autonomous Robird is one step closer

Jul 01, 2015

With the assistance of the European Space Agency ESA, robotics researchers at the University of Twente have taken an essential step toward the Robird's completely autonomous flight. This lifelike, robotic ...

Four reasons why the Terminator is already here

Jul 01, 2015

As Terminator: Genisys hits cinemas around the world, ScienceNetwork WA looks at some of the feats performed by robots in the Terminator films, and investigates how long until reality catches up with scienc ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.