Electrically activated actuators that combine biological muscle tissue with nanoscale electronics could one day be used in tiny insect-like air vehicles. The "muscular thin film" actuators developed at Harvard University with US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funding could be used for devices that grip and move, using forces generated by spontaneous or controlled muscle contraction.The team produced the actuators by seeding rat heart muscle cells onto thin films printed with proteins to encourage the muscle's patterned growth. This allows the films to fold into a variety of three-dimensional gripping or moving forms.

Although DARPA's biomolecular motor research is primarily aimed at creating artificial marine life for military applications, the researchers believe the technology is applicable to the university's robotic insect project, as a flow sensor and an actuator.

Source: Flight International