Scientists Have Developed ‘Living’ Skin For Robots, and It’s Quite Something

Credits: Shoji Takeuchi

Artificial humans have been mentioned thousands of times throughout history. A great example of this is Talos, an automaton bronze titan in charge of protecting princess Europa in ancient Greek Meeks.

More modern depictions include Terminators and many other movies. However, we might be closer to creating a robot that actually resembles a human thanks to the creation of “living robot skin.”

The substance has many of the characteristics of the human skin, such as self-healing and water-repelling. It even feels like actual human skin, but that’s because this invention is, indeed, made from human skin cells.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have created a functioning three-jointed robot finger utilizing the aforementioned lab-grown skin tissue.

In the past, attempts to “attach” skin onto robotic surfaces have resulted in failure. However, Michio Kawai and colleagues found a different approach that allows it to happen.

The skin molds itself onto the device after the latter is dipped in a solution based on collagen and dermal fibroblast, the cells responsible for forming the structural matrix of the human skin, which also happen to be the primary parts of the skin’s connective tissue.

The newly formed layer is then coated with epidermal cells (keratinocytes), which compose the outermost layer of our skin and provides it with water repellence.

The following footage shows how it is possible for the electrostatically charged polystyrene to stick to the finger even when the epidermis is lacking, which makes it complicated for the finger to manipulate.

This material is far from being comparable to human skin. Although it endured several stretches and contracting movements from the robotic finger, the team reported that it is still “too weak” and suggested that increased collagen levels in the initial solution and more maturation of the cells may provide some advancements.

The researchers also reported that collage bandages could repair damaged sectors of the tissue. The living cells take and integrate the new material into their system and start repairing the damages.

The “living robot skin” is still far from perfect. It can’t survive without being submerged in its nutrient solution. Also, the lack of circulatory and sweat gland systems makes it impossible for the skin to apply hydration to itself.

Kawai and his team proposed that adding “nerves” and sensors could make the skin multi-faceted like actual human skin, providing a protective and sensory function. They hope to make more “similar” robots so we can integrate them into our society and different industries easily.

You can read the full details about the research on Matter.

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