Action heroes or murderous villains, biohybrid robots made from organic and man-made materials have fueled science fiction fantasies forever. Now, thanks to scientists, robots with human skin are a closer possibility.
Today, an article published in Matter magazine gives an account of a new material similar to human skin that has been developed by a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo (Japan).
In addition, the material, with which they have coated a robot’s finger, is water-repellent and self-healing.
“The finger has a slightly ‘sweaty’ appearance just after it comes out of the crop,” says Shoji Takeuchi of the University of Tokyo.
Having a “real” appearance is one of the main priorities of humanoid robots designed to interact with humans in sectors such as health and services.
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Until now, the closest thing to human skin that has been manufactured is silicone skin with which it is tried to give robots a human appearance but the material falls short when you want to copy delicate textures such as wrinkles or specific functions of the skin.
Until now, attempts to make sheets of living skin to cover robots have also met with little success, as they are difficult to adapt to dynamic objects with uneven surfaces.
To make the skin, the team first dipped the robotic finger into a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the two main components that make up the skin’s connective tissues.
The contraction of this mixture of collagen and fibroblasts shrunk and fit the finger and, like a primer, this layer provided an even base that made it easier for the next layer of cells, the human epidermal keratinocytes, to adhere.
These cells make up 90% of the outermost layer of skin, giving the robot a texture similar to real skin.
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In addition, heThe skin created had enough strength and elasticity to withstand the dynamic movements of the robotic finger. as it curved and stretched, and the outermost layer was thick enough that it could be lifted with tweezers and repelled water.
When injured, the skin could even self-heal like that of humans with the help of a collagen bandage, which gradually transformed into skin and endured repeated movement of the joints.
“We are amazed at how well the skin tissue conforms to the robot’s surface. This work is only the first step towards creating robots covered with living skin”, Takeuchi advances.
At the moment, this skin is much weaker than natural skin and cannot survive long without a constant supply of nutrients and waste removal, but Takeuchi and his team have already announced that they will solve these problems and incorporate more sophisticated structures into it, such as neurons. sensory, hair follicles, nails and sweat glands.
“I think living skin is the ultimate solution for giving robots the look and feel of living things, as it is the exact same material that covers animal bodies,” Takeuchi says.