A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo developed living skin tissue coatings for robots that can perform basic functions such as self-healing and repelling water.
In a study published on Thursday by the journal Matter, lead author and engineer Takeuchi Shoji and a team of researchers revealed the development of human skin tissue for robots using “a coating material.” The coating is able to mimic the appearance and movement of human skin.
When crafting the skin tissue, the researchers first submerged the robot’s finger into a cylinder filled with a mixture of the human skin’s main components: collagen and fibroblasts. By using living skin cells for the coating, the robot’s skin was able to perform basic biological functions such as self-repair and repelling water.
“Inspired by the medical treatments of deeply burned skin using grafted hydrogels, repair treatment was performed by applying an acellular collagen sheet on an intentionally made wound at the center of the planar-shaped dermis equivalent or on the dorsal surface of the robotic finger,” the study explained.
Takeuchi explained that the skin is made up of the top two layers of human skin — the epidermis and dermis — and is around 1.5 mm thick. Although the skin does not feature sweat glands and hair follicles, it is able to move as human skin would.
“However, as the robot moves, the skin stretches and contracts, revealing wrinkles; my personal impression is that it is much more realistic than silicone,” Takeuchi told Insider.
He also pointed out that the robot skin is weaker in comparison to human skin as it is in constant need of nutrients and waste removal. Takeuchi and his team are now studying ways to make the robot skin tissue last longer and include more advanced working skin features such as hair follicles, sweat glands and sensory neurons.
The researchers are hoping to use their findings as a way to help engineers develop more human-like prosthetics and “biohybrid robots that have a combination of living materials and artificial materials.”
“I think living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and touch of living creatures since it is exactly the same material that covers animal bodies,” Takeuchi told The Guardian.