Biological Soft Robotics

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2015;17:243-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-071114-040632.


In nature, nanometer-scale molecular motors are used to generate force within cells for diverse processes from transcription and transport to muscle contraction. This adaptability and scalability across wide temporal, spatial, and force regimes have spurred the development of biological soft robotic systems that seek to mimic and extend these capabilities. This review describes how molecular motors are hierarchically organized into larger-scale structures in order to provide a basic understanding of how these systems work in nature and the complexity and functionality we hope to replicate in biological soft robotics. These span the subcellular scale to macroscale, and this article focuses on the integration of biological components with synthetic materials, coupled with bioinspired robotic design. Key examples include nanoscale molecular motor-powered actuators, microscale bacteria-controlled devices, and macroscale muscle-powered robots that grasp, walk, and swim. Finally, the current challenges and future opportunities in the field are addressed.

Keywords: bioinspired design; biomimetics; cardiac muscle; molecular motors; skeletal muscle; soft robotics; tissue engineering.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomimetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / physiology
  • Muscle Cells / physiology
  • Robotics / methods*
  • Tissue Engineering


  • Molecular Motor Proteins