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 and biohybrid prosthetics. The research group’s long-term goal is to develop completely organic, autonomous robots with programmable neural circuits. Such robotic systems will have applications in search and rescue, environmental monitoring, and prosthetics.
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.
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.
|Course||Course Name||Location||Units||Semester Offered|
|24-354||Special Topics: Gadgetry: Sensors, Actuators, and Processors||Pittsburgh||9||Fall|
- Abraham Z, Hawley E, Hayosh D, Webster-Wood VA, Akkus O. Kinesin and Dynein Mechanics: Measurement Methods and Research Applications. ASME. Journal of Biomechanical Engineering, 140(2): 020805-020805-11, 2018.
- Webster VA, Young FR, Patel JM, Scariano GN, Akkus O, Gurkan UA, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. 3D-Printed Biohybrid Robots Powers by Neuromuscular Tissue Curcuits from Aplysia californica. Springer. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 10384: 475-486, 2017.
- Webster-Wood VA, Akkus O, Gurkan UA, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. Organismal engineering: Toward a robotic taxonomic key for devices using organic materials. Science Robotics, 2(12), 2017.
- Webster VA. Development of Organic Machines and Biohybrid Robots. Case Western Reserve University, 2017.
- Webster VA, Chapin KJ, Hawley EL, Patel JM, Akkus O, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. Aplysia Californica as a Novel Source of Material for Biohybrid Robots and Organic Machines. Springer. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 9793: 365-374, 2016.
- Webster VA, Hawley EL, Akkus O, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. Effect of actuating cell source on locomotion of organic living machines with electrocompacted collagen skeleton. IOP Publishing. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 11(3): 036012, 2016.
- Webster VA, Nieto SG, Grosberg A, Akkus A, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. Simulating muscular thin films using thermal contraction capabilities in finite element analysis tools. Elsevier. Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials, 63: 326-336, 2016.
- Webster VA, Hawley EL, Akkus O, Chiel HJ, Quinn RD. Fabrication of Electrocompacted Aligned Collagen Morphs for Cardiomyocyte Powered Living Machines. Springer. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 9222: 429-440, 2015.
- Leibach R, Webster VA, Bachmann R, Quinn R. Mechanical Improvements to TCERA, a Tunable Compliant Energy Return Actuator. Springer. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 9222: 410-414, 2015.
If you are interested in joining the CMU B.O.R.G. please read the appropriate section below.
Undergraduates: Research opportunities are currently available for undergraduate students in sea slug habitat design, and mechatronic system design and fabrication. To learn more and to be considered for an available project, please email your CV, research interests, and a statement of interest explaining why you are interested in joining our team to email@example.com. Please include the tag [Undergrad] in the subject line.
Master’s: Master’s applicants can only be considered through the standard application process. If you are interested in pursing a master’s in the CMU B.O.R.G. please apply through the online system. To learn more and to be considered for an available project, please email your CV, research interests, and a statement of interest explaining why you are interested in joining our team to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the tag [Masters] in the subject line.
Ph.D.: Ph.D. applicants can only be considered through the standard application process. If you are interested in pursing a Ph.D. in the CMU B.O.R.G. please apply through the online system and indicate Prof. Webster-Wood as one of the faculty members you are interested in working with. After applying, please send an email containing a statement of interest explaining why you are interested in joining our team to email@example.com. Please include the tag [PhD] in the subject line. All applications will be reviewed following the application deadline.
Post-docs: Funded post-doctoral positions are not available at this time. If you are interested in being considered for a postdoc once funding becomes available, or if you are interested in pursuing an independent fellowship to perform research that would mesh well with the CMU B.O.R.G. please email your CV, research interests, a statement of interest explaining why you are interested in joining our team, and information about your planned independent funding source if applicable to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the tag [Postdoc] in the subject line.
Inquires about joining the lab that are sent to Professor Webster-Wood's university email account may not receive responses so please be sure to email email@example.com, which is processed regularly.
We look forward to hearing from you!
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.
Webster-Wood quoted on future direction of biohybrid robotics
MechE’s Vickie Webster-Wood’s was included in create’s list of “10 big robotics challenges that need to be solved in the next 10 years."
Case Western Reserve University
Webster-Wood lead author on foundational paper of organismal engineering
MechE’s Vickie Webster-Wood co-authored a paper that creates a foundation for the emerging field of biohybrid robotics that the authors dub “organismal engineering.”
Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering
Webster-Wood featured for work with sea-slug tissue biobots
MechE’s Vickie Webster-Wood was featured in an article from the Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering for her lab’s development of a biohybrid robot using living tissue from sea slugs.