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Biorobotics is often used to refer to a real subfield of robotics: studying how to make robots that emulate or simulate living biological organisms mechanically or even chemically. The term is also used in a reverse definition: making biological organisms as manipulatable and functional as robots, or making biological organisms as components of robots.
In the latter sense, biorobotics can be referred to as a theoretical discipline of comprehensive genetic engineering in which organisms are created and designed by artificial means. The creation of life from non-living matter for example, would be biorobotics. The field is in its infancy and is sometimes known as synthetic biology or bionanotechnology.
Biorobotics in Fiction
Biorobotics has made many appearances in works of fiction, often in the form of synthetic biological organisms.
The robots featured in Rossum's Universal Robots, the play that originally coined the term robot, are presented as synthetic biological entities closer to biological organisms than the mechanical objects that the term robot came to refer to. The replicants in the film Blade Runner are biological in nature: they are organisms of living tissue and cells created artificially. In the novel The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, "windups" or "New People" are genetically engineered organisms.
The word biot, a portmanteau of "biological robot", was originally coined by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama. Biots are depicted as artificial biological organisms created to perform specific tasks on the space vessel Rama. This affects their physical attributes and cognitive abilities.
The term bioroid, or biological android, as also been used to designate artificial biological organisms, like in the manga Appleseed. In 1985 the animated Robotech television series popularized the term when it reused the term from the 1984 Japanese series The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross.
A biological brain, grown from cultured neurons which were originally separated, has been developed as the neurological entity subsequently embodied within a robot body by Kevin Warwick and his team at University of Reading. The brain receives input from sensors on the robot body and the resultant output from the brain provides the robot's only motor signals. The biological brain is the only brain of the robot.
- Xydas, S.; Norcott, D.; Warwick, K.; Whalley, B.; Nasuto, S.; Becerra, V.; Hammond, M.; Downes, J. et al. (March 2008), "Architecture for Neuronal Cell Control of a Mobile Robot", in Bruyninckx, Herman; Přeučil, Libor & Kulich, Miroslav, European Robotics Symposium 2008 (Prague: Springer) 44: 23–31, doi:10.1007/978-3-540-78317-6
- Bioroïdes - A timeline of the popularization of the idea (in French)
- Harvard BioRobotics Laboratory, Harvard University
- BioRobotics Lab in Korea
- Laboratory of Biomedical Robotics and Biomicrosystems, Italy
- Tiny backpacks for cells (MIT News)
- Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab, Case Western Reserve University
- Bio-Robotics and Human Modeling Laboratory - Georgia Institute of Technology
- Biorobotics Laboratory at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
- BioRobotics Laboratory, Free University of Berlin (Germany)
- Biorobotics research group, Institute of Movement Science, CNRS/Aix-Marseille University (France)