Animals have long served as an inspiration for robotics. However, many of the mechanical properties, physical capabilities, and the behavioral flexibility seen in animals have yet to be achieved in robotic platforms. Towards addressing this gap, research in the CMU B.O.R.G focuses on the use of organic materials as structures, actuators, sensors, and controllers towards the development of biohybrid and organic robots. The research group’s long-term goal is to develop completely organic, autonomous robots with programmable neural circuits. Such robotic systems will have future applications in medicine, search and rescue, and environmental monitoring.
Joining the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Fall 2018, Webster-Wood established the Biohybrid and Organic Robotics Group (B.O.R.G.), bringing together bio-inspired robotics, tissue engineering, and computational neuroscience to create novel devices and advance the fields of bioinspired, biohybrid, and biodegradable robotics.
Vickie Webster-Wood’s most recent list of publications can be found on Google Scholar.
Research in the CMU B.O.R.G. focuses on the study and application of biologically-derived tissues to create sustainable, biocompatible robotic systems. By studying existing tissues (such as skeletal muscle or neural circuits), we seek to identify design guidelines for bio-inspired and biohybrid robots. We can also use tissues, or cells isolated from these tissues, to grow novel organic systems in order to build biocompatible robots seeking to capture the compliance, behavioral flexibility, and force-to-weight ratios seen in living organisms. Finally, we are interested in the use of plant and protein-derived materials in the creation of sustainable, biodegradable, and even edible robots.
In living organisms, both plant and animal, bio-compatible materials and proteins make-up the structures that support and guide the function of surrounding cells and tissues. The CMU B.O.R.G. uses a variety of bio-fabrication techniques, including additive manufacturing and electrocompaction, to build protein and mineral based structures for robotic systems. Such structures are characterized via mechanical testing and mechanical properties are optimized to support the function of specific cell or to ensure specified degradation speeds in natural environments.
Muscle provides many of the functional properties often sought after in robotic applications including natural compliance, energy efficiency, and high force-to-weight ratios. Research in the CMU B.O.R.G. focuses on how to fabricate and support functional muscle tissues that mimic the structure of native muscle in living systems, how different stimulation techniques effect muscle performance, and on creating computationally efficient neuromuscular models for in silico robot design. Our group studies mammalian and avian muscles as well as invertebrate muscles in order to create muscle-based actuators suitable for a wide range of environments.
Non-muscle biologically-derived material-based actuators
In addition to studying muscle as a robotic actuator, our group is interested in how plant and algae-derived materials can be used in the fabrication of biodegradable, and even edible soft robotic actuators. Using algae-derived bioinks and 3D bioprinting, we are creating new soft robotic components that can be made from materials native to the desired deployment environment.
The sensory systems of living organisms demonstrate amazing specificity and resolution. The CMU B.O.R.G. studies and simulates how the structure and cellular organization of such sensory systems effects cell signaling and how those signals are integrated and processed by the associated neural circuitry. Current research in this thrust focuses on invertebrate sensory systems for aquatic applications.
Even relatively “simple” animal nervous systems are capable of robust sensory integration, signal processing, motor control, and complex behavioral flexibility, allowing animals to survive and flourish in complex, dynamically changing environments. Such properties and capabilities are a major goal in robotic control research. The CMU B.O.R.G. studies sensory integration and motor control in invertebrate neural circuits to better understand learning and control with a goal of creating programmed control circuits composed of living neurons for use in organic robots.
Biohybrid and organic robotics
In addition to specific research on individual organic systems, researchers in the CMU B.O.R.G. are currently integrating organic and synthetic materials to create Biohybrid and even completely organic robots. The systems combine bio-inspired robotics, bio-fabrication, additive manufacturing, and simulation to create and test biocompatible robots. Our current research focuses on devices that are capable of crawling or swimming in aquatic environments.
In addition to using living materials to build robotic devices, the CMU B.O.R.G. engages in traditional robotics research and development. We apply principles learned from our studies of the tissues, as well as relevant literature from biology and neuroscience, to create bio-inspired robotic devices and controllers. Our current research projects focus on bio-inspired control algorithms based on invertebrate neural circuits and biologically inspired swimmers.
Research project outcomes
- Wenhuan Sun (Ph.D., Fall 2022, first position after CMU - Paypal)
- Kevin Dai (Ph.D., Summer 2023, first position after CMU - Schwartz Center Innovation Commercialization Postdoctoral Fellow)
M.S. Alumni and MS Project Students
- Gordon Gao (MS, BME)
- Kathleen Gladson (MS, MechE)
- Jason Paulovich (MS, BME)
- Ravesh Sukhnandan (MS, BME)
- Yu Wang (MS, MechE)
- Bella Zhang (MS, BME)
Past and present undergraduate researchers
- Jacob Abrams
- Nathan Ang
- Charli Ann Hooper
- Adam Assad
- Befeker Assefa
- Ryan Bao
- Lameck Beni
- Anaya Bhammar
- Annie Chen
- Theophilos Cockrell
- Jenna Cui
- Anais del Rosario
- Abirami Elangovan
- Lekha Kesavan
- Riti Krishna
- Leon Lai
- Justin Lam
- Janice Lee
- Rose Lee
- Bajram Metjahic
- Nickia Muraskin
- Arpita Nag
- Fernando Plata
- Allison Rojas
- Nicole Segale
- Gian Seixas
- Avani Shukla
- Summer Sun
- Ian Turner
- Emily Wang
- Vicki Wang
- Karen Whirley
- Xochitl Zazueta
If you are interested in joining the CMU B.O.R.G. please read the appropriate section below.
Undergraduates: Projects are advertised through the MechE newsletter as they are available. Please refer to this information for opportunities to join the lab or email Dr. Webster-Wood with the tag [Undergrad] in the subject if you are interested in whether new projects may be becoming available.
Graduate students: All graduate students (MS or Ph.D.) will only be considered through the official CMU application system. Please apply online. If you are an admitted MS student and would like to learn about available projects please refer to the MS Canvas page or email Dr. Webster-Wood with the tag [MS] in the subject.
We specifically have project opening for new graduate students in muscle tissue engineering for biohybrid actuators.
Postdocs: We do not currently have any postdoc openings available.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Webster-Wood named 35 Innovator Under 35
Vickie Webster-Wood has been named one of the 2023 35 Innovators under 35 by MIT Technology Review
Branching out: Modeling neurons in new ways
Predicting neuron cell growth just got a little bit easier, thanks to CMU researchers.
So tricky, a robot can do it
Carnegie Mellon Researchers have taken inspiration from geckos to create a material that adheres to wet and dry surfaces, even on an incline.
2023 Dean’s Early Career Fellows announced
Xi (Charlie) Ren, Victoria Webster-Wood, and Ding Zhao have received the honor for their contributions to their respective fields.
Now printing: seaweed-based, biodegradable actuators
We are one step closer to naturally compostable robots now that researchers at Carnegie Mellon can print actuators using a bio-ink made from seaweed.
Multi-university team building actuators for next gen bio-bots
Multi-university team, led by Mechanical Engineering’s Vickie Webster-Wood, is building actuators for next generation sustainable bio-bots.
Hydrogels pave way for future of soft robotics
Wenhuan Sun, Victoria Webster-Wood, and Adam Feinberg have created an open-source, commercially available fiber extruder to benefit future research with hydrogels and soft robotics.
CMU team wins big at robotics conference
MechE’s Victoria Webster-Wood and her team took home a prize for their paper at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
Bergbreiter, Majidi, and Webster-Wood featured in IEEE Spectrum
MechE’s Carmel Majidi, Sarah Bergbreiter, and Victoria Webster-Wood were featured on IEEE Spectrum, discussing softbotics.
Tuning synthetic collagen threads for biohybrid robots
Researchers in Victoria Webster-Wood’s Biohybrid and Organic Robotics Group are using techniques from tissue engineering to refine tendon-like collagen threads for a new generation of robots.
Biomechanics for teens
National Biomechanics Day is a worldwide celebration that strives to bring the complex world of biomechanics to high school students through hands-on activities, demonstrations, and Q&A sessions with real-world professionals.
NSF CAREER grants awarded to engineering faculty
Four engineering faculty received NSF CAREER awards to support their education and research goals.