Made up of a gold skeleton, coated with living rat heart muscle cells and wrapped in silicone, the penny-sized robotic stingray was created by Sung Jin Park and his colleagues in order to have a better understanding of the way the human heart works.


Park’s team from Harvard, Stanford, and Sogang Universities had the vision to create a way for people to be able to create artificial hearts and pave the way for the creation of artificial creatures.

The researchers had decided to create the hybrid robot from dissecting stingrays because of the way the stingray had moved gracefully while being energy-efficient, and because of the way the stingray moves much like the heart; they move fluids in order to move.

How They Did It

They created the skeleton out of gold in order for the robo-stingray to store elastic energy and then laid out the muscle cells in a serpentine mesh pattern in order to mimic the movement of the animal it was inspired from.

The most interesting thing about the hybrid robot is that the muscle cells are engineered to respond to light by contracting; each muscle is tuned to respond differently to the light, and with the help of the way the cells have been arranged, it flows in the salt-sugar solution in a life-like manner.

Limitations of the Robo-Stingray

Despite this breakthrough in robotics, however, there are still limitations to the light-powered robo-stingray: being made of organic cells, the robo-stingray has to be immersed in a solution that will prevent its cells from dying. Also, since it only responds to external stimuli, the creation is only limited to movements that the light will dictate; we still have a long way to go before we are able to make an artificial heart that will be able to beat by itself much like a normal human heart would.

There is still a lot to do before we are able to rebuild human organs from scratch or create
independent hybrid robots that can sustain their own energy, but the robo-stingray will pave the way for a better future which can benefit people in better understanding our own body.

If you like this piece, you may want to click here to check out what National Geographic Magazine has going on.