Scientists create ‘living’ robotic skin that can heal itself

(ORDO NEWS) — It looks like scientists are one step closer to creating the Terminator.

Researchers in Japan have developed living skin that can be used to cover a robotic structure, in this case a finger.

The skin not only has a texture similar to human skin, but can self-repair and repel water.

“The finger looks slightly ‘sweaty’ straight from the culture medium,” said study lead author Shoji Takeuchi, a professor at the University of Tokyo, Japan.

“Because the finger is driven by an electric motor, it’s also interesting to hear the clicking sounds of the engine in harmony with the finger, which looks just like the real thing.”

Looking “real” like a human is one of the top priorities for humanoid robots, which are often tasked with interacting with humans in healthcare and other services.

A human-like appearance can improve communication efficiency and elicit sympathy, the researchers say.

Scientists create living robotic skin that can heal itself 2
Robotic finger covered with living human skin

While silicone skin can mimic human skin, it is still not perfect when it comes to delicate textures such as wrinkles, and lacks skin-specific features.

Attempts to make living sheets of skin to cover robots have also had limited success, as it is difficult to adapt them to dynamic objects with uneven surfaces.

“With this method, you need to have the hands of a skilled artisan who can carve and adapt sheets of leather,” Takeuchi said.

“In order to effectively cover surfaces with skin cells, we developed a method to mold the skin around the robot, resulting in a seamless skin covering on the robotic finger.”

To create the skin, the team first dipped a robotic finger into a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the two main components that make up skin’s connective tissues.

Takeuchi said the success of the study lies in the natural tendency for this mixture of collagen and fibroblasts to contract, which shrunk and adhered tightly to the finger.

Like primers for paint, this layer provided an even base for the next layer of cells, human epidermal keratinocytes (for adherence). These cells make up 90 percent of the outer layer of the skin, giving the robot its skin texture and water-retaining barrier properties.

The created skin had enough strength and elasticity to withstand the dynamic movements of the robot’s finger twisting and stretching.

The outer layer was thick enough to be picked up with tweezers and repelled by water, providing various advantages for specific tasks such as handling electrostatically charged tiny Styrofoam, a material often used in packaging.

When damaged, artificial skin could even self-repair, like humans, with a collagen bandage that gradually turned into skin and withstood repetitive joint movements.

Developed skin is much weaker than natural skin and cannot survive for long without a constant supply of nutrients and removal of waste.

Takeuchi and his team then plan to address these issues and incorporate more complex functional structures into the skin, such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands.

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