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Stingray Robot Powered by Rat Muscles Might Be The Answer to Better Artificial Hearts

Jul 12, 2016 05:01 AM EDT

Have you ever seen a cyborg animal? A team of scientists has successfully created a stingray robot that behaves exactly like a real-life stingray, but is powered by rat muscles, light cues and a gold skeleton.

The robot is a project of Harvard's Disease Biophysics Group and is pioneered by Kevin Kit Parker. Talking with Gizmodo, Parker said he got the idea to build a stingray robot after a visit to the New England Aquarium, where his daughter tried to pet a stingray but the animal quickly moved away.

“It struck me like a thunderbolt that I could build that system in the musculature, and that it would look very much like the [muscular] layer of the heart," he said.

According to the study published in the journal Science, the team started building the cyborg, soft-tissue stingray by making a neutrally charged gold skeleton, which would hold the robot's body.

Parker and his team then added layers of flexible polymer to act as its skin, while around 200,000 light-sensitive rat heart muscles, called as cardiomyocytes, were added on top of the skin. The result is a 16-millimeter robot stingray that weighs just 10 grams.

The robot stingray, which is a hybrid of biological and synthetic components, moves via the rat muscles. The robot fins' contract and move downward when the cardiomyocytes are exposed to light.

Meanwhile, apart from support, the gold skeleton is also designed to store downward energy, that when released, makes the stingray robot move upward.

To control the direction of the robot's movement, the researchers used asymmetrical pulses of light to navigate the stingray robot while different light frequencies could tweak its speed.

According to Parker, this new discovery opens doors to creating better artificial hearts. Through the robot, Parker will be able to understand and study the heart and what other parts of the body could help in blood flow.

“With the exception of crustaceans, almost all marine life forms have muscles designed to move fluid. To advance our studies of the heart we have started looking at marine life forms and the muscular pumps they represent," he said.

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