Researchers Say 'Biohybrid Robot' - Clarke Said 'Biot'
Researchers are working on biohybrid robots, in which robots are fabricated from living or organic tissue rather than metals or inorganics.
(Robotic ray is part animal, part machine)
Researchers fabricate biobots by growing living cells, usually from heart or skeletal muscle of rats or chickens, on scaffolds that are nontoxic to the cells. If the substrate is a polymer, the device created is a biohybrid robot Ė a hybrid between natural and human-made materials.
If you just place cells on a molded skeleton without any guidance, they wind up in random orientations. That means when researchers apply electricity to make them move, the cellsí contraction forces will be applied in all directions, making the device inefficient at best.
So to better harness the cellsí power, researchers turn to micropatterning. We stamp or print microscale lines on the skeleton made of substances that the cells prefer to attach to. These lines guide the cells so that as they grow, they align along the printed pattern. With the cells all lined up, researchers can direct how their contraction force is applied to the substrate. So rather than just a mess of firing cells, they can all work in unison to move a leg or fin of the device.
Beyond a wide array of biohybrid robots, researchers have even created some completely organic robots using natural materials, like the collagen in skin, rather than polymers for the body of the device.
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke told us (and me, since I read this book when it came out) about this idea in 1972, in his still-current novel Rendezvous With Rama; he used a much more compact word - biot - to describe them:
...now life, with all its infinite possibilities, had come to Rama. If the biological robots were not living creatures, they were certainly very good imitations.
No one knew who invented the word "biot"; it seemed to come into instant use, by a kind of spontaneous generation.
(Read more about Clarke's biots)
The term was used to describe creations like the spider tripod robots that Rama seemed to spontaneously generate for self-cleaning whenever an energy source (a sun) became available.
I'd also point out that science fiction fans (or at least scientifiction fans) were introduced to the idea of "artificial life - living machines" as early as 1926 by Edmond Hamilton in his story Across Space.