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.
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 organic 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.
In living organisms, 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 tissue types.
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 both mammalian muscle (for potential medical applications) as well as invertebrate muscle (for potential environmental monitoring applications).
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.
Lab alumni and past researchers
- Gordon Gao (MS)
- Jason Paulovich (MS)
|Course||Course Name||Location||Units||Semester Offered|
|24-354||Special Topics: Gadgetry: Sensors, Actuators, and Processors||Pittsburgh||9||Fall|
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.
Postdocs: No postdoc positions are available at this time.
We look forward to hearing from you!
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.
Sea slugs to provide clues in understanding the brain
As the co-principal investigator on an NSF NeuroNex project, Victoria Webster-Wood will investigate the impact of neuromodulators on muscle actuation and modeling biological motor control in engineering frameworks.
Reassess, recalibrate, and transform
Mechanical Engineering students and faculty adapted with innovation and agility to finish the spring 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have a Wimmer
As a 2020-2021 Wimmer Faculty Fellow, Victoria Webster-Wood plans to design interactive demonstrations and to build virtual labs for the course “Gadgetry: Sensors, Actuators, and Processors.”
Webster-Wood named Wimmer Faculty Fellow
MechE’s Vickie Webster-Wood has been named a 2020-2021 Wimmer Faculty Fellow. The fellowship is designed for junior faculty members interested in enhancing their teaching through concentrated work.
Future Tech Podcast
Webster-Wood on biohybrid and organic robotics research
MechE’s Victoria Webster-Wood was a guest on the Future Tech Podcast and discussed her research in developing biohybrid and organic robots. Webster-Wood describes how she and her lab are integrating muscle and neurologic tissue of animals into robots.
From bioinspired to biohybrid
Victoria Webster-Wood uses organic materials to build robotic devices for future applications in medicine and environmental science.
Webster-Wood featured on podcast panel
MechE’s Vickie Webster-Wood, who will be joining the department in the fall of 2018, was interviewed for her work on biohybrid robotics on WNYC’s Science Friday podcast.