▸ Research 1: Interactive Bio-Technology (IBT)


Computer technology has evolved from large number-crunching machines in the 1950s to today’s interactive devices of ubiquitous professional and personal use. We are inspired by people like Douglas Engelbart, Joseph Licklider, Ralph Baer, and Seymour Papert, who made computing interactive, accessible, intuitive, affordable, and fun. To enable equivalent impact for the life-sciences, we explore the human-interaction design and application space that is provided by techniques like microfluidics, lab robotics, and genetic engineering - which we term Interactive Bio-Technology (IBT). We first demonstrated this concept through ‘biotic games’, where a human can play with living cells in realtime. This represents an entirely new game type which merges wet biology with video games. Thinking more broadly, this new interactive medium has many potential affordances, e.g., lowered access barriers to research instruments, new hands-on microfabrication approaches, novel educational technology, or improved usability for medical devices.

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The subsequent need for robust, high-dimensional experimentation and versatile application design led us to new hardware architectures and programming languages: In analogy to GPUs we conceptualized Biotic Processing Units (BPUs), which are devices that house, actuate, and measure microbiological systems repeatedly and long-term (weeks), and where digital stimulus instructions convert to digital output of the analog biological behavior. We investigated different BPU designs, and we implemented programming languages for micro-swimmer swarm control, which are applicable to other natural and synthetic active particle assemblies.





In order to achieve real-world impact, we collaborate with diverse domain experts to explore the IBT design space through device engineering, applications, and target audience assessment: (i) A museum exhibit (TrapIt!) enables to interrogate living cells with light via a touchscreen (The Tech Museum; San Jose); (ii) A smartphone microscope (LudusScope) combines construction, play, and inquiry (with 1st Playable Productions); (iii) Low-cost Lego Mindstorm pipetting robots with research grade performance bridge mechatronics and wet-science education (with LearningTech.org); (iv) Biology cloud labs that can reach millions of learners (with Prof. Paulo Blikstein Stanford Education).


Ongoing work focuses on diversifying biology content, accessibility, and programmability.  A key goal are expressive platforms with similar impact as the early home computers, i.e., enabling ‘interesting’ applications for professional, educational, and personal use.