Once again, nature has provided the inspiration for technological innovation. This time, it is the stingray that takes centrestage.
Besides inspiring the logo of our very own X-Ray Magazine, the stingray is also the inspiration for a new type of tissue-based soft robotics being developed by a team led by bioengineering Professor Ali Khademhosseini, from UCLA.
The one-centimetre long robot mimics the biomechanics of the stingray, which has proved to be an ideal model, with its simple body design consisting of a flattened body shape and side fins that start at the head and go all the way to the base of its tail.
It comprises of four layers: tissue comprised of live heart cells, two distinct types of specialised biomaterials for structural support and flexible electrodes. When the electrodes “contract” the heart cells on the biomaterial scaffold, the robot is made to flap its “wings.”
There is great potential for this new technology, in the fields of bio-inspired robotics, regenerative medicine and medical diagnostics. Khademhosseini, who had conducted the research when he was at Harvard, believes that the development of such bioinspired systems could enable future robotics containing both biological tissues and electronic systems.
"This advancement could be used for medical therapies such as personalised tissue patches to strengthen cardiac muscle tissue for heart attack patients,” he added.
A paper on this has recently been published in the journal Advanced Materials.