Although the term “cyborg” wasn’t coined until the 1960’s, the idea of cybernetic organisms has been around for much longer. In 1839, Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Man That Was Used Up”. The story describes general John A.B.C. Smith as a man who is assembled from individual parts. So as you can see, beings that are both living being and machine have been popular in science fiction for quite some time. But until recently, cyborgs have been nothing more than fiction. Researchers have built a “living machine”, but it’s not quite what you’d expect a cyborg to be.
Most people’s understanding of cyborgs comes from science fiction. Because of this, we know that cyborgs are a blend of man and machine, and that they will one day walk among us. If this is how you define cyborg, then you still have a little more waiting to do. However, if you’re less strict with your definition, we live in an age of cyborgs.
Blending organisms and machines.
A team from Case Western Reserve University have built a robot made from a 3D-printed body and muscle tissues from a sea slug. The team calls the cyborg slug a “living machine” or a “biohybrid robot”. An external electrical field controls the muscle tissue, allowing the living robot to move around.
Currently, these biohybrid robots are only able to move a fraction of an inch per minute (0.15 per minute to be exact). This seems less than remarkable; however, it’s not the capabilities of these living machines that makes them so significant. The team hopes that these cyborgs can one day be used for important research or search and rescue applications.
The significance of cyborg slugs.
This research is a huge step in combining living material and robotics. Prosthetic body parts have become quite advanced over the years, and those advancements are arguably more impressive than robotic slugs. However the big difference between the two, is that these living robots are more machine than living organism. It will be interesting to see how this research affects robotics over the next few years.