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Part man, part machine: Researchers at the University of Oxford are making The Terminator a reality.
Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr, of the Oxford Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, test medical technology by dressing robots in human flesh.
The cyborgs “wear” tissue grafts to help develop artificial muscles and tendons before transplantation.
Engineered in stationary lab conditions, human cells cannot currently reach their full potential; they often “fail to mimic the real mechanical environment for cells,” the scientists said, making them incompatible with patients.
Moving humanoids, however, could help develop the implants in a more lifelike way.
“Humanoid-bioreactor systems may open numerous opportunities in medicine, science, and technology, in the spirit of ‘science for robotics and robotics for science,’” Mouthuy and Carr suggested in the latest issue of Science Robotics.
“Mechanical stimulation is central to the successful development of musculoskeletal tissues both in vivo and in-vitro,” they said.
According to the study, published early this month, humanoid musculoskeletal robots can freely interact with their surroundings, providing more realistic stresses to tissues.
“It is now both technically possible and scientifically pertinent to explore in greater detail the potential of humanoids as tools for regenerative medicine,” the researchers said. “Advances in this field could lead to exciting applications across multiple disciplines.”
Specifically, curing musculoskeletal tissue disorders (cellulitis, Marfan syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta, scleroderma, etc.), according to the scientists, who cite aging populations for whom these afflictions “are a growing health, social, and economic burden.”
“It makes sense to create advanced bioreactors with structures, dimensions, and mechanics similar to those of the human body,” Mouthuy and Carr said. “In this context, humanoid musculoskeletal robots become highly relevant.
“By mimicking the human skeletal architecture and the body movements in different activities, they could help to overcome the limitations of current bioreactors,” they concluded.
This isn’t the first time someone has covered a machine with fleshy material: Roboticists across the world (usually in Japan, though) are experimenting with humanoid devices to train dentists, advance speech synthesis, and study early childhood development, among other applications.