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Light-activated skeletal muscle could be used to make realistic robots

A team of bioengineers has genetically engineered skeletal muscle tissue to produce a protein that reacts to light, and plans to use it to build a robot with realistic manoeuvrability.

The MIT and University of Pennsylvania team decided that mimicking animal behaviour in robotics was not enough -- by mimicking the genetic materials that allow those behaviours, they could make a giant leap towards feasible biorobots. It is the first time skeletal muscle has ever been manipulated to react to light, with past studies focusing only on cardiac muscle cells.

"With bio-inspired designs, biology is a metaphor, and robotics is the tool to make it happen," said MIT engineering professor Harry Asada, who has co-authored a paper on the study, due to appear in the journal Lab on a Chip. "With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor. This is a new direction we're pushing in biorobotics."

Skeletal muscle, which needs external stimuli to flex, was chosen as the ideal basis for the future biorobot because it is stronger than the two other major muscle groups, cardiac and smooth -- examples of skeletal muscles in humans include those used during vigorous exercise, including the biceps and the sartorius (which runs down the thigh to help it bend and turn). The team considered stimulating the muscle with electrodes, but wanted a less invasive approach that would not call for adding too much apparatus to a robot. Taking inspiration from optogenetics, which uses light to stimulate neural activity, the team set about investigating how they could manipulate the skeletal tissue -- repeated experiments had already shown that the cells in cardiac muscles will respond to light, but trials had not been successfully carried out on other tissue.

After genetically modifying skeletal muscle cell cultures to produce light-activated proteins, the team introduced them to muscle fibres. They found that once the fusion was complete, 20-millisecond bursts of blue light could be focused to stimulate just one fibre, or a group of fibres, demonstrating the type of exacting control someone could one day exert on a biorobot covered in the light-stimulated tissue.

The group then grew the genetically-altered muscle fibres with a hydrogel solution to create fully-formed muscle tissue, which performed in the same manner when light was administered.

In what surely looked like the most gruesome gym workout ever devised, the team secured strips of muscle to the two flexible posts of a micromechanical chip and watched as it bent the posts inwards when stimulated with light. This method, Asada says, will strengthen the muscle tissue even further in the lab, before it is then fused to a robot in the future.

"Like bedridden people, its muscle tone goes down very quickly without exercise," he said.

Though the movement the tissue is exhibiting is in a very small range, under one millimetre, Asada points out "there's no actuator that can do that kind of job right now."

Before they start on building a menagerie of lifelike robot animals, the team has suggested it will focus on manipulating the muscle to create an endoscopic device that can effectively travel through the body, lighting the way. It could also be used to help investigate the effectiveness of drugs for motor-related diseases.

Source: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-08/30/light-stimulated-muscles

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Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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