Grossmann: What is Biorobotics?

3 April 2014



We move faster and faster into the future. Every day, we meet an endless stream of terms and phrases that have suddenly appeared to describe the new, the amazing and, sometimes, the almost indescribable.

Biorobotics is a word with a problem. No one has decided exactly what it is or what it isn’t. For sure, it’s used to describe three things.

First, biorobotics is the study and practice of making robots that imitate biological organisms. Robots like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog, UMD Robotics’ Robo-Raven, or ROBOTNOR’s Wheeko the robotic snake are all examples of biorobotics.

But some biorobotic devices imitate things as small as, or smaller than, living cells. Imagine being able to build small robotic devices, or “nano” robots, that could be injected into a person’s bloodstream. These tiny robots would be designed to work like super antibiotics.   Once inside the body, these nano robots could cure infections almost instantly. Other nano robots of the same kind could clear clogged blood veins or even repair damaged blood vessels. These tiny ‘bots could allow a person to live years longer.

Second, biorobotics includes what is sometimes called “bionics.”   The word bionics is now used to describe the study of how to integrate mechanical robotics into human beings — like TV’s Six Million Dollar Man.   When mechanical devices are actually used to replace or improve the function of human organs, the result is a “cyborg.” Technically, something as simple as a heart patient’s pacemaker makes the user and device, together, into a cyborg.

WIKIPEDIA: Six Million Dollar Man

            Third, biorobotics also is used to describe to the study of genetic engineering. This has little to do with machines, mechanics or devices. Instead, genetic engineering is the actual design and development of new and unique living organisms. This requires an understanding of genetic material, DNA.   This, also, requires a very precise technology for arranging DNA “parts” it into new patterns or designs to produce new life forms or old life forms with new and different characteristics.  No one is able to genetically engineer even small life forms at this time.   But researchers are working toward that goal.  As a gardener, I would look forward to a really, really blue rose. (The roses on the market now that are called “blue” are actually sort of purple).

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri & Belleville, Illinois

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