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Robots Get Genetically Engineered Skeletal Muscles

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Beth Stackpole
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Stuff of science fiction
Beth Stackpole   9/20/2012 7:40:12 AM
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It's really pretty incredible what's percolating in the research labs when it comes to robotics, particularly in the area of biomechanics. I could see huge applications for this technology as part of the advances already happening on the prosthetics front. Having a prosthetic leg that can replicate some natural human movements would be a reall boon for patients looking to get back into their active lifestyles. Amazing stuff.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Stuff of science fiction
Nancy Golden   9/20/2012 11:49:45 AM
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I agree Beth - I just watched the video and it was amazing how the material contracted under the light stimulus. The whole concept reminds me of "Data" from Star Trek The Next Generation - it looks like the beginnings of androids and prosthetics would be such a wonderful application. It amazes me how much the futuristic vision of Star Trek is being played out today. I wonder if there are any bioethical issues that willl be raised from this type of engineering...

gsmith120
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Re: Stuff of science fiction
gsmith120   9/20/2012 3:31:47 PM
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I agree pretty incredible.   Ann, any idea when MIT and U of PA plan to have the first working model of their genetically engineered robot?  Are there plans on using the engineered skeletal muscles in humans?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Stuff of science fiction
Ann R. Thryft   9/20/2012 3:39:25 PM
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gsmith, there was no indication yet about the team's future plans for robots, or using this skeletal muscle tissue in humans. Use in humans would be an entirely different bioengineering project.



Rob Spiegel
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What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/20/2012 3:19:31 PM
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Great story, Ann. If these are genetically engineered muscles, then it sounds like they're alive. If so, what keeps them alive? Or, is this material artificial? 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Ann R. Thryft   9/20/2012 3:35:15 PM
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Rob, you're asking the same excellent question Jack asked regarding the engineered tissue in the Medusoid. As I responded to him, I think the answer lies more in the realm of biotech than robotics, at least for now. Does anyone else know?

ttemple
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
ttemple   9/21/2012 8:16:22 AM
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I'm pretty sure it's the same thing that keeps me alive... Pepsi.  I think I could see the hose in the viedo.  (just kidding).

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Ann R. Thryft   9/21/2012 12:57:07 PM
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Here's an icky answer for how genetically engineered tissue is kept alive. First, just from being a sci-fi fan I knew the tissue had to be grown and preserved in some kind of artificial, nutrient-rich medium. This article on creating artificial meat (hence the "ick" factor) has some answers on how that's done:
http://suite101.com/article/lab-grown-hamburgers-to-hit-the-market-next-year-a397077
But does that mean that skeletal muscle tissue on a robot is somehow immersed in a liquid nutrient bath?

Scott Orlosky
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Scott Orlosky   9/22/2012 11:32:24 PM
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Well I have to admit that this is a little bit freaky, but still pretty cool.  Who knows what this means for the future,  I suppose that some Cyborg, hybrid robot in 2050 will owe it's movement to these early developments.

 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/21/2012 12:53:52 PM
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Wow. I would imagine that brings up bio-ethical issues, Ann. Very Matrix.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Ann R. Thryft   9/21/2012 12:59:19 PM
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Rob, if you mean the use of animal tissue to create genetically engineered tissue, that practice is pretty regular. So are the protests by PETA et al. But this story is all about robots, not using this stuff on humans.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/21/2012 2:41:27 PM
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This is fascinating stuff, Ann. I find it amazing that muscle tissue is the engeineering answer to moving a robot. You're covering a very exciting field.

mrdon
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
mrdon   9/22/2012 12:25:27 AM
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Rob, I agree. The field of robotics is constantly changing. The days of mechanized machines are becoming quite eloquent and sophisticated using bioengineering as the catalyst in the design process. Although I'm not an advocate of creating artifical beings, the ability to create robots with human dexterity is somewhat intriguing. As always, great article Ann!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 12:38:02 PM
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Thanks, Rob and mrdon. I, too, was surprised to see yet another science fiction idea coming into reality with this subject. Like Scott, I think it's kinda freaky, but also fascinating.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Jack Rupert, PE   9/24/2012 1:54:32 PM
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Ann, it would seem as if keeping the tissue in the nutrient bath would would defeat the purpose of this technology - namely eliminating the space required for more conventional motion control.

Any idea about the life-span, or is the fact that it's being "fed" cause cell division for an indefinite amount of time, thereby reproducing itself?  I'm running a little low on my memory of cellular biology.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 2:08:31 PM
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Jack, I agree. All these questions are about bioengineering, not about robotics, so I suspect we'll have to wait until the team's next announcement.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/24/2012 7:16:15 PM
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Good points, Mrdon. Interesting how bioengineering has entered the robotics world. We could see a world of soft robots that are made of living tissue. Quite amazing.

mrdon
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
mrdon   9/26/2012 1:21:26 AM
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Rob, engineers are finding inspiration from nature and the future direction, it seems,  is to  package their basic behaviors in bio-mechanical machines to medically aid humans. Truly fascinating stuff!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/26/2012 1:08:04 PM
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I agree, it is fascinating, Mrdon. The engineers are looking at a wide range of creatures to imitate as they build robots -- from cockroaches to fish.

mrdon
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
mrdon   9/27/2012 1:28:49 AM
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Rob, studying nature can provide inspiration where a tough engineer problem can be resolved within the Eureka moment by the movement of a cockroach. Cool stuff!!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
Rob Spiegel   9/27/2012 10:04:32 AM
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Yes, Mrdon, and it makes sense to study the movement of different creatures to see what dynamics they are using that could be borrowed for machine motion. In robotics, I find that more interesting than the replication of human attributes.

mrdon
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Re: What keeps the muscles alive?
mrdon   9/27/2012 11:18:33 AM
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Hi Rob, I agree. Studying replication of nature with robotics is very interesting than the emulation of human attributes.

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