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Journey Towards The Bionic Human

Robotics, BioRobotics4 min read

Gabriele Sisinna

Meet Gabriele Sisinna

MSc in Bionics Engineering (Biorobotics) @ University Of Pisa

Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

Gabriele Sisinna graduated in Biomedical Engineering (BSc) from the University of Pisa.

He is currently studying Bionics Engineering (MSc) at the University of Pisa and the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies.

His interests include 3D printing, biorobotics, mechatronics, robotic prostheses, social robotics, and neuroscience.


What inspired you to pursue a career in robotics?

Everything started at about the age of 7 or 8 years when, for Christmas, I received as a gift a small robot waiter. Here in Italy, it was sold under the name "Emilio" and I was fascinated by this cute robot.

I began to wonder how it was made inside and how to increase its capabilities. He soon became more than a robot, because he was my first friend.

From that moment on, growing up I became passionate in general about electronics and with the microcontroller Arduino, I started to create my first robotic devices.

The project that put me at a crossroads was that of a robotic hand-operated by small motors and guitar strings.

I didn't have the right skills and I couldn't even create the prototype, so in that year, at the age of 17, I decided that I would study something that would allow me to create the robotic hand of my dreams.

I started Biomedical Engineering at the University of Pisa.

My path in robotics was a bit indirect because starting from Biomedical Engineering I studied the human body from an engineering point of view, and later I continued to carry on my passion for robotic systems always with my idea of the robotic hand in mind.

How did you become a Bionic Engineer?

Once I got my BSc in Biomedical Engineering I decided to specialize further.

But that wasn't enough for me, because I wanted to become one of the first bionic engineers in the world, and I thought of it all as a gamble.

I applied for this MSc at the Sant ‘Anna High School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, a place of excellence in Italian research.

There were only 20 places available (15 EU and 5 extra-EU). I sent my CV and everything I needed and, with a little surprise, I was accepted.

At this point, I began my journey with the Bionics Engineering, where I met for the first time the branch of biorobotics.

Being a bionic engineer means knowing how to range between many disciplines such as robotics, neuroscience, physiology, mechatronics, and biomechanics.

I think it was my curious disposition that made me become a bionic engineer and not just a degree course.

I love the world of robotics but at the same time I read a lot about neuroscience and medicine, so in this figure, I found a mix of that.

What is your main interest in working with bio-robotics?

Biorobotics combines robotics and biomedical engineering methodologies to create bio-inspired systems such as exoskeletons or soft robots.

My main interest is social robotics, a branch of robotics that deals with the development of robotic systems capable of interacting with humans more and more efficiently thanks to modern tools such as artificial intelligence.

I want to create social robots to use in clinical settings, for example in research on communication in the autism spectrum disorders.

Many autistic children cannot learn in ordinary school settings due to communication deficits.

I believe that each of us has the right to learn and draw on human knowledge, and I would like to give an extra tool to these unique and extremely important children or young people for our society of the future.

It mentions with a small example a challenge that biorobotics is facing for its use and development One of the main problems with biorobotics is controlled.

"Classical" robotics makes use of mathematical tools such as linear algebra or system theory to control rigid or semi-rigid manipulators but with a finite number of degrees of freedom.

This, however, does not apply (in part) to soft robotics, which studies and deals with the development of compliant robotic systems that use intelligent materials or similar to our biological tissues.

One real example is the control of a robotic tentacle inspired by that of an octopus, currently being studied in the laboratories of the Biorobotics Institute.

This tentacle has infinite degrees of freedom being made up of non-rigid materials, and it is necessary to use different mathematical tools for these structures.

For control, we have provided the possibility of using artificial neural networks, structures of which mimic our brains. But it's still a new area and research is taking its first steps.

Would it be possible with biorobotics one day to replace all human organs and achieve immortality?

Today there are several ways to make up for a missing limb, whether higher or lower, and this allows many people to have an independent or almost independent life.

But the human body is an extremely complex system, based on very delicate balances that we can hardly replicate with mechanical or electronic components.

Artificial organ transplants and research on how to create them from our cells are likely to increase in the future, but we are still a long way from replacing all organs.

As for immortality, I believe that the real obstacle is not artificial organs, but thermodynamics and the laws that govern the flow of time.

We humans are beautiful and biochemically efficient systems, but we cannot escape from what is called "entropy" that is, in simple terms, the degree of disorder of a system.

Our life is closely linked to the passage of time and the degradation of metabolic processes that take place within our body, and even by replacing our organs with artificial elements, we should still find another source of energy.

So it's a bit like a dog biting its tail.

In addition to these limitations due to the fundamental laws of physics, I think it will be very difficult to replace our brains, and here we could talk for hours about issues concerning consciousness, but maybe in another interview.

What goal you'd like to achieve as a bionic engineer in the next 5 years?

I was always attracted to research and when I enrolled at university, I wanted to become a full-time researcher.

Over time, however, I have increasingly dreamed of having my own company in the field of robotics, which can combine the latest technologies at the service of human beings and their health.

I want to create the robots of the future and I don't think there's a suitable place from the beginning to do this, so step by step I'll try to have the right experiences in the most cutting-edge places.

But this is a complicated process that you live day by day.

To answer your question then, within five years I would like to become part of a highly specific research context, which gives me the right environment in which to experiment with my ideas and help me bring together passionate people like me to create something unique.