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Scientists create living human skin for robots that can stretch, repel water and even ‘heal’ themselves

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Science fiction just got one step closer to reality as scientists have managed to create a living “sweaty” skin for humanoid robots.

The material, developed by scientists at the University of Tokyo, not only has a skin-like texture, but can also repel water and ‘heal’ itself with a collagen plaster.

The method for making it was published today in the magazine Matterand involves dipping a robotic finger into a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts — the two main components that make up connective tissue in human skin.

Lead author Shoji Takeuchi said: ‘The finger looks a little ‘sweaty’ straight from the culture medium.

‘Since the finger is powered by an electric motor, it is also interesting to hear the clicking sounds of the motor in harmony with a finger that looks just like the real thing.

“I think living skin is the ultimate solution for giving robots the look and touch of living beings, because it’s exactly the same material that covers the bodies of animals.”

Scientists have succeeded in creating a living ‘sweaty’, water-repellent skin for humanoid robots

After the wound had sufficiently healed, the skin's ability to bend and stretch was retested

After the wound had sufficiently healed, the skin’s ability to bend and stretch was retested

Staining of frozen areas of the artificial skin tissue.  Cell nuclei were stained violet and the extracellular matrix and cytoplasm were stained pink.  It shows that an epidermal layer covered the surface of the dermis equivalent seamlessly and formed a uniform layer

Staining of frozen areas of the artificial skin tissue. Cell nuclei were stained violet and the extracellular matrix and cytoplasm were stained pink. It shows that an epidermal layer covered the surface of the dermis equivalent seamlessly and formed a uniform layer

HOW IS THE SKIN MADE?

Scientists first submerged a robotic finger in a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts

The collagen contributes to the elasticity and strength of the skin, while the fibroblast cells play an essential role in hair development and wound healing

The mixture allows the artificial skin to naturally shrink tightly around the hardware, forming a uniform base for the next layer

The team then coats the skin with human epidermal keratinocytes, which make up 90 percent of the outer layer of human skin.

They provide a skin-like texture and moisture-retaining barrier properties

When developing biohybrid robotics, it is a top priority to look as ‘human’ as possible.

This is because many robots are intended to interact with people in the healthcare and service industries, who feel more comfortable with their lifelike appearance.

It could improve communication between humans and robots and even evoke sympathy, the researchers said.

Current artificial skins are made of silicone, which can mimic human appearance, but fall short when it comes to replicating delicate textures like wrinkles.

Silicone also cannot take on skin-specific functions, such as sweating or self-healing, and cannot be easily applied to dynamic objects with uneven surfaces.

“With that method, you have to have the hands of a skilled craftsman who can cut and cut the skins to size,” Takeuchi added.

“To efficiently cover surfaces with skin cells, we developed a tissue molding method to mold skin tissue directly around the robot, resulting in a seamless skin covering on a robot finger.”

to work the skin, the team first submerged a robotic finger in a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts.

The collagen contributes to the elasticity and firmness of the skin, while the fibroblast cells play an essential role in hair development and wound healing.

The mixture allows the artificial skin to naturally shrink tightly around the hardware, forming a uniform base for the next layer.

Figures show the manufacturing process of the skin equivalent used to cover the robot finger

Figures show the manufacturing process of the skin equivalent used to cover the robot finger

Takeuchi and his team then covered the skin with human epidermal keratinocytes, which make up 90 percent of the outer layer of human skin.

They provide a skin-like texture and moisture-retaining barrier properties.

The scientists and engineers found that the skin had enough strength and elasticity to remain intact as the robotic finger was curled, bent and stretched.

The outer layer was thick enough to be lifted with tweezers, and any wounds would heal on their own if covered with a collagen bandage.

The dressing gradually changed into the skin and withstood repeated joint movements.

The outer layer of the skin was thick enough to be lifted with tweezers

The skin is also water-repellent.  This meant charged polystyrene beads would not stick to it due to moisture

The outer layer of the skin was thick enough to be lifted with tweezers and is also water resistant. This meant charged polystyrene beads would not stick to it due to moisture

Scientists tested the skin's self-healing functionality by making a 'wound' in it after it was placed on a robotic finger and then coating it with a collagen sheet (pictured)

Scientists tested the skin’s self-healing functionality by making a ‘wound’ in it after it was placed on a robotic finger and then coating it with a collagen sheet (pictured)

Images showing the migration of skin fibroblast cells to a grafted collagen sheet placed on artificial skin to repair a wound.  (i) Three days after the plate was applied (ii) Seven days after the plate was applied.  It resembled the phenomena seen in injured places on human skin

Images showing the migration of skin fibroblast cells to a grafted collagen sheet placed on artificial skin to repair a wound. (i) Three days after the plate was applied (ii) Seven days after the plate was applied. It resembled the phenomena seen in injured places on human skin

The finger skin also repelled water, meaning statically charged polystyrene packaging beads would not stick to it due to moisture, if operated in a packaging environment.

Takeuchi said: ‘We are surprised by how well the skin tissue adapts to the surface of the robot.

“But this work is only the first step towards making robots covered in living skin.”

Further development is still needed to increase the strength of the artificial skin and enable it to survive extended periods without nutrient supply and waste removal.

The team will also look for more advanced functional structures in the skin, such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails and sweat glands.

Robots may soon be able to feel PAIN: Scientists develop artificial skin that can mimic uncomfortable sensations

Robots will soon be able to feel pain thanks to the development of a new electronic skin that can mimic uncomfortable sensations

Scientist from the University of Glasgow developed a mechanical hand with smart skin that showed a remarkable ability to learn to respond to external stimuli such as a prick in the palm

It uses a new type of processing system based on ‘synaptic transistors, which mimic the brain’s neural pathways to learn’ to feel pain

They were inspired by how the human peripheral nervous system interprets signals from the skin

Researchers printed a grid of 168 synaptic transistors made of zinc oxide nanowires directly onto the surface of a flexible plastic surface.

They then connected the synaptic transistor to the skin sensor over the palm of a human-shaped robotic hand

The sensor registers a change in its electrical resistance when touched, with a light touch corresponding to a small change and a harder touch creating a larger change

Read more here

Useful: Scientists believe robots can quickly feel pain after developing electronic skin that can mimic uncomfortable sensations (pictured)

The electronic skin uses a new type of processing system based on 'synaptic transistors, which mimic the brain's neural pathways for learning'

Useful: Scientists believe robots can quickly feel pain after developing electronic skin that can mimic uncomfortable sensations (pictured)

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