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

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Scientists Have Developed ‘Living’ Skin For Robots, And It’s Quite Something: The concept of mechanical humans has both fascinated and frightened humanity for generations, starting with the ancient Greek story of Talos, a massive bronze automaton who guarded the princess Europa, all the way up to the present day with Cylons and Terminators.

The creation of live robot skin has brought us to a point where we are more capable than ever before of giving a robot the appearance of a human being. This icky-looking substance is water-resistant, can mend itself, and has the consistency of our own skin.

Because it is actually composed of cells taken from human skin.

Shoji Takeuchi, a tissue engineer at the University of Tokyo, was quoted as saying, “I think living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and touch of living creatures since it is exactly the same material that covers animal bodies.” “I think living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and touch of living creatures,”

The researchers were able to successfully apply a prototype of this lab-grown skin to a robot finger that possesses three joints and can function normally.

Takeuchi comments that immediately after removal from the culture medium, the finger has a “sweaty” appearance. “Since the finger is operated by an electric motor, it is also interesting to hear the clicking sounds of the motor in harmony with a finger that appears precisely like a real one,” the author writes. “[T]he finger was designed to look just like a real one.”

Previous attempts to graft skin onto robotic surfaces have been unsuccessful, but tissue engineer Michio Kawai of the University of Tokyo, together with his colleagues, devised a method that allows the skin to self-mold onto the device.

In their work, Kawai and the company explain that it is difficult to cut, glue, or stitch the endpoints of skin equivalent without causing damage to the delicate soft tissue. “It is difficult to cut the endpoints of skin equivalent without causing damage to the delicate soft tissue.”

They did this by first submerging the robotic device in a solution containing collagen and dermal fibroblasts, which are cells that create the proteins that form the structural matrix of human skin. These are the primary components that make up the connective tissue of the skin.

They proceeded to coat this primer layer with epidermal cells, also known as keratinocytes, which are the primary constituent of our skin’s most superficial layer. If this additional layer were not present, the material would not have the ability to repel water in the same way that animals do.

The electrostatically charged polystyrene bead adheres to the finger in the video below even though there is no epidermis present, which makes it more difficult for the finger to operate the bead.

The sticky substance may have been able to withstand the frequent stretching and contracting actions of the robotic finger, but it is still a lot less resilient than human skin. The group hypothesizes that increasing the amount of collagen present in the starting solution and allowing the cells to mature even more could help alleviate the situation.

Remarkably, the synthetic skin can also be mended with a collagen bandage, which the living cells then receive and incorporate into their system to help fill in the damage. This is a remarkable ability.

Even while the results are extremely astounding, the tissue that can be generated in the lab is still relatively limited. It is unable to survive for long outside of its nutrient solution because similar to human skin, it needs a steady supply of water to prevent drying out. However, the artificial skin layers do not have the complex components of circulatory and sweat gland systems that are necessary to provide such hydration.

“Building perfusion channels within and beneath the dermis equivalent to mimic blood vessels to supply water, as well as the integration of sweating glands in the skin equivalent, are important directions for future research,” Kawai and colleagues write. “Building perfusion channels within and beneath the dermis equivalent to mimic blood vessels to supply water”

They also propose the addition of ‘nerves’ and sensors so that the lab-made skin can be multi-talented like our own skin, serving both as a protective barrier and a sensory organ.

Takeuchi said that “we are amazed by how nicely the skin tissue conforms to the surface of the robot.” However, this work is only the first step toward the development of robots that are covered with biological skin.

The researchers expect that by giving robots a more human appearance, people will find it easier to empathize with and appreciate them. This will allow robots to better communicate with humans in the fields of medicine, caregiving, and customer service. (Of course, this is predicated on the assumption that we will be able to advance artificial humanoids beyond the uncanny valley.)

In their conclusion, the researchers state that “these findings highlight the potential of a paradigm change from traditional robotics to the novel scheme of biohybrid robotics that utilizes the advantages of both live materials and artificial materials.”