Scientists Develop Human Skin with Self-Healing Ability Intended to Coat Robots

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    Almost like a science fiction movie, a group of Japanese scientists has made a kind of water-repellent human skin with organic and artificial materials, which can self-heal and is destined to cover robots, according to a new study published, last Thursday, by Matter magazine.

    “The finger has a slightly ‘sweaty’ appearance right after it comes out of the culture”, said study lead author, Shoji Takeuchi, a scientist at the University of Tokyo. Looking “real” is one of the top priorities for humanoid robots intended to interact with humans in sectors such as healthcare and services.

    Existing skin for robots

    Currently, the closest thing to human skin that has been manufactured is silicone skin which is tried to give a human appearance to robots, 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.

    A texture similar to that of human skin

    To make this new skin, the team first dipped the robotic finger into a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the 2 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.

    Sufficient resistance for movements

    In addition, the skin created had enough strength and elasticity to support the dynamic movements of the robotic finger as it curved and stretched, and the outermost layer was thick enough to be lifted with tweezers and repel water.

    When injured, the skin could even self-heal like that of humans with the help of a collagen bandage, which gradually transformed into the skin and endured repeated movement of the joints. “We are amazed at how well the skin tissue conforms to the robot surface. This work is just the first step towards creating robots covered with living skin”, added Takeuchi.

    There is still work to make it more realistic

    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 system, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands.

    “I think living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and feel of living things, as it is the same material that covers animal bodies”, Takeuchi concluded.

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