Bioinspired Soft Robot with Incorporated Microelectrodes

This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Bioinspired soft robotic systems that mimic living organisms using engineered muscle tissue and biomaterials are revolutionizing the current biorobotics paradigm, especially in biomedical research. Recreating artificial life-like actuation dynamics is crucial for a soft-robotic system. However, the precise control and tuning of actuation behavior still represents one of the main challenges of modern soft robotic systems. This method describes a low-cost, highly scalable, and easy-to-use procedure to fabricate an electrically controllable soft robot with life-like movements that is activated and controlled by the contraction of cardiac muscle tissue on a micropatterned sting ray-like hydrogel scaffold. The use of soft photolithography methods makes it possible to successfully integrate multiple components in the soft robotic system, including micropatterned hydrogel-based scaffolds with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) embedded gelatin methacryloyl (CNT-GelMA), poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA), flexible gold (Au) microelectrodes, and cardiac muscle tissue. In particular, the hydrogels alignment and micropattern are designed to mimic the muscle and cartilage structure of the sting ray. The electrically conductive CNT-GelMA hydrogel acts as a cell scaffold that improves the maturation and contraction behavior of cardiomyocytes, while the mechanically robust PEGDA hydrogel provides structural cartilage-like support to the whole soft robot. To overcome the hard and brittle nature of metal-based microelectrodes, we designed a serpentine pattern that has high flexibility and can avoid hampering the beating dynamics of cardiomyocytes. The incorporated flexible Au microelectrodes provide electrical stimulation across the soft robot, making it easier to control the contraction behavior of cardiac tissue.