Scientists Invent Self-Healing Robot Skin

In the pursuit of creating human-like robots, sometimes it is not enough to provide them weird but believable facial expressionsor one murderous sense of humor. Sometimes you have to give them really Human skin.

Engineers at the University of Tokyo have found a way to put human skin on a robotic finger that feels almost lifelike. In one Article published on Thursday in the magazine Problem, skin grafts — a mixture of collagen, precursor skin cells, and keratin-producing skin cells — keep the animatronic finger waterproof and amazingly self-healing. That could be a big step towards making robots with skin that is alive as well as functional, sensing and responsive like our own.

The skin of most humanoid robots is made of silicone, which looks like a human but is incapable of replicating the structure or function of real skin. Scientists have been trying to make living skins for our synthetic materials, but it’s been difficult to effectively coat biomaterials around the rigid contours of the robot’s body.

“With that method, you have to have the hands of a skilled craftsman who can cut and edit leather panels,” said Shoji Takeuchi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Tokyo and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “In order to effectively cover surfaces with skin cells, we established a tissue molding method that directly molds the skin tissue around the robot, resulting in a seamless overlay of skin on a single finger. robots.”

The robotic finger sits in a solution of collagen and skin cells.

Shoji Takeuchi / University of Tokyo

The process involves dipping a three-joint robotic finger in a pink solution reminiscent of Westworld The robot is submerged in a barrel of white liquid. This solution contains collagen, a protein that provides structural support to the skin and other tissues in the body, and human dermal fibroblasts, the cells that produce collagen and repair skin cells. . Over the course of seven days, collagen and fibroblasts fit into the robotic finger, creating the innermost layer of skin called the dermis.

To make the epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin – fingers are soaked in a solution containing human epidermal keratinocytes. These cells make up 90% of the epidermis and produce keratin, a protein that helps hold skin cells together, allowing the epidermis to become a protective, water-repellent barrier.

With the new skin, the motorized finger feels and looks almost like a real digit. Its cuticle is thick enough that it can be pinched with tweezers and pushed out the water. When the researchers cut it to simulate a wound, the raw skin of the finger healed itself just like human skin, albeit with some help from a Band-Aid-like collagen sheet.

“The finger looks a bit ‘sweat’ when exposed to the culture medium,” says Takeuchi. “Since the finger is controlled by an electric motor, it is also interesting to hear the click of the motor in harmony with a finger that looks like a real finger.”

Sadly, since skin is living matter, it cannot survive on a robotic finger for very long without a constant supply of nutrients and a method of removing waste. Takeuchi and his team are hoping to overcome this problem by creating channels beneath the dermis that can deliver water and nutrients, much like the blood vessels in the human body. They also wanted to create a version of artificial sweat glands that could help keep skin moist in dry environments. Essentially, the team is looking at adding other features like hair follicles and fingernails to make the skin more alive, while also incorporating nerves that allow the robot to sense and respond to its environment. .

“I think hide is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and feel of living things because it’s exactly like the material that covers an animal’s body,” Takeuchi said.

The look and feel of the living creatures — it couldn’t have been more eerie valleys than that.

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