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Gizmorama - February 22, 2017

Good Morning,

Scientists at MIT have developed gloves that light up when they come into contact with target chemicals. Gloves already protect your hands, but now you'll know from what. Smart!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists invent new, faster gait for six-legged robots --*

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - Robotics engineers often find their inspiration from nature. For six-legged robots, a nature-inspired gait proved an impediment to maximum speed.

Researchers at the University of Lausanne and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, UNIL and EPFL, wanted to find out if there was a faster way for their insect-inspired robot to scurry.

Most insects walk with a tripod gait, keeping three legs in contact with the ground at all times.

"We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk," researcher Pavan Ramdya said in a news release.

Using the fly species Drosophila melanogaster as a model, researchers built a computer simulation to test different gaits. The computer simulation employed an evolutionary-like algorithm, designed to generate gait patterns and test for optimum performance.

The model showed the traditional tripod gait is most effective for an insect climbing a wall. However, the gait requires adhesive pads for the feet, an attribute robots don't have. For a basic floor walk with no adhesive booties, the algorithm determined a bipod gait, with only two feet on the floor, was faster and more efficient.

Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

"Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis," said Ramdya. "Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait."

When scientists raced two six-legged robots, each with a different gait, the bot sporting the bipod gait won.

Researchers also tested the gait of flies wearing tiny booties designed to negate the advantages of their adhesive pads. Flies with booties on their feet naturally adopted a bipod gait.

"This result shows that, unlike most robots, animals can adapt to find new ways of walking under new circumstances," said researcher Robin Thandiackal. "There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species.

*-- New 'living material' gloves light up when they touch target chemicals --*

BOSTON - Scientists at MIT have crafted wearable sensors out of cell-infused hydrogel film. Researchers used the new "living material" to design gloves and bandages that light up when they come in contact with target chemicals.

The hydrogel's watery environment provides nutrients to injected cells, keeping them alive and functioning as designed.

"With this design, people can put different types of bacteria in these devices to indicate toxins in the environment, or disease on the skin," Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering, told MIT News. "We're demonstrating the potential for living materials and devices."

Previous scientific breakthroughs have allowed researchers to engineer cells to perform a variety of functions, like lighting up when they come in contact with specific chemical compounds.

For Lu and his colleagues, the challenge was to keep programmed cells alive outside of a Petri dish.

The new biocompatible hydrogel developed by the team of engineers, a combination of a polymer and water, improves on previous attempts to bring engineered cells outside of the lab.

Researchers carved tiny channels through the hydrogel layers using 3D printing and micromolding methods. They then affixed the hydrogel film to a porous layer of rubber, which offered protection without sacrificing access to oxygen. Finally, the engineers injected programmed E. coli cells into the channels before soaking the entire material in a solution of nutrients.

"The challenge to making living materials is how to maintain those living cells, to make them viable and functional in the device," Lu said. "They require humidity, nutrients, and some require oxygen. The second challenge is how to prevent them from escaping from the material."

Their final material kept the cells alive and active for several days, even as they stretched and folded the material.

In a series of tests, researchers injected different engineered cells into separate channels in a hydrogel-elastomer bandage. Each channel glowed green in response to contact with a different chemical compound.

Researchers repeated the experiment using a hydrogel-elastomer glove with engineered cells injected into the tiny channels carved into the glove's fingertips. The tips glowed green when the glove wearer picked up cotton balls soaked with the target chemicals.

Scientists described their living material breakthrough in the journal PNAS.


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