How Biorobotics Might Save Millions Of People
From the authors of science fiction books to movie producers, Biorobotics has been a favourite theme. Films like Star Trek and its character ‘Commander Data’ and the TV series The Next Generation are well-known science fiction. However, true science fiction fans and academics go back to the writing of Isaac Asimov, who is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary for introducing the word ‘robotics’ and the late 1960’s when Stanley Kubrick provided a visualization for robotics in ‘The Space Odyssey’.
Modern media continues to explore the field of robotics as a theme that captivates a vast majority of viewers especially in an age where technology is available to practically every man. The terms android and droids are familiar to everyone. Therefore, the subject of Biorobotics is of importance to everyone.
This article discusses 1) what is Biorobotics, 2) how Biorobotics helps humans, 3) initial efforts and strategies made by Biorobotics, 4) how Biorobotics can help in vaccinations, and 5) how humanity can be saved from various viruses through Biorobotics.
WHAT IS BIOROBOTICS?
Biorobotics is a term representative of the amalgamation of several sciences. Under this banner, fields of bionics, genetic engineering and cybernetics are all in play. This collective study of different sciences coming together has allowed us to explore how robotics can interact with biology. In its wake, Biorobotics essentially allows robotics to be a substantial substitute for biological organism in a chemical as well as a mechanical capacity.
Biorobotics replicates the biological understanding of living organisms and reproduces their characteristics through artificial means. The theoretical discipline of comprehensively engineering genetic information to develop new robotic designs is one aspect of Biorobotics. Another aspect is the use of biological specimens as components of a functioning robot.
Experts have gone so far as to say that Biorobotics is a form of creation; scientists are exploring creation of life from matter that is non-living. Although the field is still in its infancy, Biorobotics which is sometimes also referred to as synthetic biology and more often known as bio-nanotechnology in the academic circles, have significant possibilities in the future.
HOW BIOROBOTICS HELPS HUMANS
Biorobotics is subdivided into faculties of bio-mechanics and neural-engineering which facilitate rehabilitation engineering as well as wearable and implantable technologies, and micro- & nanotechnologies. Different technologies are at different stages of experimentation with some at human trial stages while others at the verge of being mass produced and marketed.
Biologically inspired robots are being worked upon to allow biologists and scientists to create better robots than we have traditionally. This means that the performance will provide an improved function. Sub fields will be created in robotics and robots will become specialized in, say, artificial skin sensing. A good example is the work of Italian scientists in making prosthetic skin pads for diabetics.
Researchers are also working on haptics; anything concerning the sense of touch. In addition to providing prosthetic sensation devices, the field of haptics in Biorobotics opens up possibilities in surgical procedures. It can improve precision by allowing surgeons to virtually sense how deep an incision needs to be made.
Microchips are already being used in safety and security divisions to monitor activities of individuals such as prisoners. For this, as well as the medical applications, scientists from the University of Illinois are working in collaboration with colleagues from Singapore on refining these chips into micro-electronics. The refinement process aims at making these thinner and irritation free. Additions are being made to the monitoring function of these electronics; the intention is to add wide ranging applications such as transmission to make it function like a human-computer interface.
INITIAL EFFORTS AND STRATEGIES MADE BY BIOROBOTICS
Bio-mechanics studies the motion and force in living organisms. This understanding of the motor biological systems allows the traditional engineering techniques, which are primarily motor-based, to help humans through the creation of prostheses. Prosthetic limbs have come a long way; today, a prosthetic arm, for example, replicates a human arm to the tiniest possible details. This means that the functioning of the prosthetic arm matches the dexterity of an average human arm. In addition to the mechanical implications studied and applied under bio-mechanics, neural engineering takes Biorobotics to a whole new level.
Neural engineering employs the quantitative and statistical study of the function of the brain. By manipulating and interfacing the nervous system, neural engineers develop an understanding that can be utilized to help the humans. By creating computational models down to a single neuron, engineers are exploring and experimenting new ways to create an interface between man-made technologies and the neural tissue. This method of experimentation comes under the domain of brain-machine interfacing. Neural engineering and brain-machine interfacing when combined with prostheses such as a prosthetic arm have allowed scientists to come up with what is known as The Bionic Arm.
Amputees have to suffer from a sensation known as phantom pain for a long time after their surgery. This is because the nerves from the spinal cord come to the shoulder of a person with an amputated arm. The sensation of having or moving an arm stays as the brain is not used to the absence of the arm and it continues to send signal through the neurons to be received by the arm. Scientists utilize these impulses through the study of neural engineering to allow electrodes in the prosthetic arm to detect these impulses. This eliminates the extensive process of rehabilitation that amputees have to go through by eliminating the actual learning curve with regards to the prosthesis. An additional control is provided with simple press buttons that can be incorporated in the patient’s shoes. These prosthetics are inclusive of touch and pressure sensitivity, position as well as haptic perception owing to the advancement in neural interface which allows the provision of cognitive feedback.
Apart from the cognitive and involuntary movements of the human body, most functions are learned through ‘muscle memory’; a term referring to the repetition causing learning of a movement through the practice of the brain sending signals through the neurons to the respective muscles. Several brain injuries cause muscles to suffer from permanent or a temporary form of amnesia. Interactive therapy is trying to provide a solution for this problem with the use of Biorobotics. Virtually interactive environments are designed to rehabilitate patients suffering from muscular amnesia. Interfacing with these environments supplements traditional methods of therapy by providing the muscles with an environment that has been distorted to facilitate the learning of the muscle to retain proper functioning. Further facilitation allows these systems to provide therapy to children suffering from cerebral-palsy, using gaming software that are appropriate.
Wearable and Implantable Technologies
Neural engineering has been in use in the form of cardiac pacemakers for a very long time now. By disrupting or stimulating the neuro-circuitry, robotics other implantable devices like the cardiac pacemakers are being developed to monitor neural disease such as Parkinsonism, epilepsy and depression. High frequency electrical stimulation is in the experimental stages for being utilized to inhibiting electrical signals. This is researched to be useful in the application of reversible and localized anaesthesia as well as bladder control or any other hard to control neuron functions particularly in the case of paralysis.
Visual prosthesis is also a result of neural engineering. In cases where the neural circuitry as well as the visual perception of the brain is still functioning, the retina that is responsible for sensing light damaged owing to age related or other degenerative loss, eye-sights can be restored. The technology that is being worked on replicates the function of a retina. It currently employs about a hundred electrodes but further experimentation would allow capturing of better resolution imagery.
Micro and Nanotechnology
Micro and nanotechnology is the section of Biorobotics that allows scientists to produce robotic solutions that can prove to be biological replacements down to the level of neurons. It deals with the miniaturization of devices as well as mechanical processes. These miniature robots are effectively being experimented for their use in repairing DNA and delivering drugs other than restoring sight and innumerable other applications.
Sustained-Release Drug Delivery
Sustained-release drug delivery is an outcome of nanotechnology in Biorobotics. It allows implants to deliver drugs for a long period of up to five years using winding paths on a microscopic scale by reducing the rate of transmission of the drug molecules. With additional technologies, sustained-release drug delivery systems can be used to monitor drug transmission through external devices such as a microchip that can regulate the dosage of insulin by determining levels of glucose in the patient’s blood.
Targeted Drug Delivery
A major concern in the field of medicine is the side effects caused by various drugs. In an attempt to limit the effects of a drug to its target in order to reduce and eventually eliminate the side effects, researchers are using Biorobotics to develop targeted drug delivery systems. This is done by adding to the sustained release drug delivery by encapsulating drugs in a polymer mould that fits only in the target cells. The study of the complexity of microbiology allows scientists to use the specificity of biological organisms in engineering robotics to dexterity that works in a lock and key mechanism between the drug and the targeted cell.
A similar concept is being integrated with the domain of therapy and diagnostics. This is being made possible with the invention of biological micro-electromechanical systems known as Bio-MEMS. Bio-MEMS use microfluidics; microscopic volumes of fluid is analysed through small fluid chambers, isolating certain molecules and cells. The size of these chambers can be understood as those placed on a micro-chip. This ‘’lab on a chip’’ module particularly targets the in-situ diagnostics by aiming inexpensive methods for Third-World countries in the monitoring of disease such as AIDS.
HOW BIOROBOTICS CAN HELP IN VACCINATIONS
One of the most interesting ways that Biorobotics can help in providing cures for disease affecting the human population is through aid to the processes involved in researching disease and automating the mass production of vaccines. Mass production allows the end product to be inexpensive and accessible to a large population in short spans of time.
Such is the case with the cure for malaria. Malarial infections are a prime concern for the scientists in saving the human population from this virus. The concern has a focus on the production process where researchers have found a vaccine with a hundred percent success rate on a group of subjects. Efforts are being made to automate the system of dissecting mosquitoes using robots which significantly improves the process of mass production of this malaria vaccine. It may be questioned that the malaria vaccine was discovered long ago and the need for work on the new vaccine is being condemned by some. But improving upon cures with the discovery of new vaccines is important and this process is being revolutionized under the premise of Biorobotics.
HOW HUMANITY CAN BE SAVED FROM VARIOUS VIRUSES THROUGH BIOROBOTICS
There are cases where the viruses found in nature are not always working against the human population. The micro-world is considered to be at war with the humans and it is considered that the humans are losing this war. However, the statement is untrue as there have been cases where viruses help balance the vast ecology that humans are a part of. The case of rabbits reproducing very fast in Australia started turning these endearing creatures into locusts. With the rapid reproduction, the rabbits started risking the ecology of Australia as the grasslands where being eaten away. This excessive activity was endangering Australia with the threat of desertification.
Scientists saw this threat and came up with the solution. Biorobotics came into play where a need was identified for the mass production of Myxomatosis virus. The virus became to be known as ‘’rabbit death virus’’ as it was used to infect gnats which are a threat to the rabbit population. Once released, the gnats eliminated the rabbit population faster than any other method possible, bringing back a balance to the ecosystem.
With viruses being considered as sworn human enemies in general, there are always cases where they help maintain the balance as the functioning of the ecosystem is understood as that of an organism. Humans have been able to counter the harmful effects caused by counter-productive changes to our natural environment through the use of Biorobotics.
The idea of Biorobotics springs from the concept of bio-mimicry as is evident from its name. This pursuit for medical and general scientific advancement, the strategy has the highest level of payback as long as the biological parameters are followed. In the efforts to revolutionize Biorobotics in saving millions from among the human population, biological organisms are observed and these observations implemented. However, in addition, the struggles faced by scientists and engineers in this effort to control and perfect these robotic solutions could become a source of tremendous insight in the understanding of the biological systems too.
There has been an emergence of sub-disciplines of Biorobotics known as HRI&C. Human-Robot Interaction & Coordination is a result of the sophistication of Biorobotics and the increasing role it is playing in the lives of humans. Biorobotics even at such an advanced stage is still a barely tapped resource proving that the possibilities to save human lives are endless.