Scientists in Japan have managed to reconstruct real human skin to cover the robot. The method used not only gives the mechanical implement a texture similar to that of a human finger, but also makes it possible to repel water and heal itself. The findings were published yesterday (9) in the scientific journal Matter.
The silicone skins used by most robots try to mimic the appearance of humans, but fall far short of expectations when trying to reproduce the texture of wrinkles or body folds. Before the Japanese developed the technology, all attempts to create “living skin sheets” to cover the robot had met with limited success, as it was still fairly difficult to maneuver on uneven surfaces.
“In order to effectively cover the surface with skin cells, we established a tissue shaping method that directly enters the skin tissue around the robot, thus perfectly covering the skin on the robot’s fingers,” explained one researcher, a study author. Takeuchi Masaharu.
He noted that the results were so realistic that the fingers seemed to sweat at times. These movements are driven by electric motors capable of reproducing real finger bends with high fidelity.
How is skin created?
The team dipped the robotic finger into a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the two substances that make up the skin’s connective tissue. The mixture adheres, shrinks and fits perfectly to the robot finger, giving it its unique shape.
To solve all problems, a third substance is used as if it were a first ink. This lays the foundation for the next layer of cells: human epidermal keratinocytes. Such cells make up 90 percent of the outermost layer of skin, giving the robot a texture similar to real objects, including water-blocking properties.
What is the purpose of artificial fingers?
According to the study, the artificial skin has enough strength and elasticity to withstand flexing and stretching motions. In addition, the thicker outer layer allows the handling of small electrostatically charged polystyrene foam, a material commonly used in packaging. In other words, hands made of this fabric could serve as wrappers for certain products in the future.
Most interestingly, the hand can regenerate itself when injured, just like humans. Simply deform the skin again with a collagen bandage and repeat the repetitive joint movement as if nothing had happened.
“We were amazed at how the skin tissue adapted to the robotic surface,” Takeuchi said. The academic recalled that the work was only the first step in creating a robot covered with living skin. “Developed skin is much more fragile than natural skin and cannot survive long term without a constant supply of nutrients and removal of waste.”
Takeuchi and his team say the next step is to find solutions to these problems and incorporate more functional and complex skin structures such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails and sweat glands. “I think living skin is the ultimate solution for giving robotic creatures the look and feel because it’s the exact same material that covers an animal’s body,” Takeuchi said.
realistic humanoid robot
The idea is that humanoid robots are developed to interact with flesh-and-blood humans in the health and service sectors. The advent of humans will help improve communication and evoke empathy for machines, which doesn’t happen very often today.
Imagine if an engineering art robot wore such skin? Late last year, the company surprised the world with a robot that can generate human facial expressions with incredible realism.
While this is an incredible advance, humanity still has a long way to go in developing Westworld-style humanoid robots. These biohybrid robots are getting closer, but are not expected to integrate into society or affect people’s daily lives for the time being. Even so, there’s no denying how fascinating and terrifying such progress is.