MIT researchers have developed a tree on a chip, with potential applications in robotics

We all know that trees have two conduit like tissues, named xylem and phloem, that allows them to supply water to the leaves from the roots and sends sugars from leaves to the roots.

Taking Inspiration from this circulatory system of tress, Scientists at MIT develop a chip that mimics the circulatory system of Trees. The new microfluidic device, called tree-on-a chip, will operate passively, without the any moving parts and without use of external pumps. Moreover, the device can keep the circulation of the fluid for several days.

The reason behind the new discovery is to search for a way to develop hydraulic systems for small robots in an affordable way.

Talking about the device Anette Peko Hosoi, a professor and associate department head for operations in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering said

The chip’s passive pumping may be leveraged as a simple hydraulic actuator for small robots. Engineers have found it difficult and expensive to make tiny, movable parts and pumps to power complex movements in small robots. The team’s new pumping mechanism may enable robots whose motions are propelled by inexpensive, sugar-powered pumps.

“The goal of this work is cheap complexity, like one sees in nature,” Hosoi says. “It’s easy to add another leaf or xylem channel in a tree. In small robotics, everything is hard, from manufacturing, to integration, to actuation. If we could make the building blocks that enable cheap complexity, that would be super exciting. I think these [microfluidic pumps] are a step in that direction.”

This is not the first time that scientists attempted to develop the mini tree-based system. Many researchers have developed the system before but they always stopped pumping within ten minutes. That’s because without a steady source of sugar, such as the one produced by the leaves of a tree, the fine balance between water and sugar that maintains osmosis is disrupted.


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