Living Skins on Robots
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
A lot of significant changes have happened during the years in terms of making our lives easier. Technology has become so far that a Google engineer claimed LaMDA, which is an AI technology, became ”sentient”. Since technology has developed that much, scientists started to use technology in order to improve other technological studies like humanoids.
Humanoids are robots that are built to mimic human motion and interaction. They can perform a wide range of tasks to interact with humans in the service industry. Such tasks for humanoids require a human-like appearance to improve the efficiency of the interaction between the humanoid and human. Imitating the appearance of humans is one of the most important steps of building a humanoid since it is hard to give a realistic tone and texture to the covering materials. Moreover, the covering materials are not able to self-heal themselves and it creates dangerous conditions for robots because of the uncertainty of the place they would be at the time they experience a problem. Even though silicone rubber, which has been traditionally a covering material for humanoids, has been a great material to imitate a human-like appearance, it lacks many functionalities of living skin such as self-healing ability and living cells.
But luckily for the first time in our knowledge, a group of Japanese scientists has developed a “slightly sweaty” robotic finger covered in living skin. This living material not only contains the ability to look human-like but also provides self-healing ability. Importantly, skin equivalents are in vitro tissues that were made by using living cells (fibroblasts, keratinocytes, etc.) and extracellular matrix (ECM) hydrogels, which can mimic unique skin characteristics. Additionally, the material achieves a soft touch.
Skin equivalents have been used in biological research and as medical implants to be used in severe wounds and burns. Some studies have also shown the in vitro self-repair capability of skin equivalents. However, it has been very difficult to fabricate skin equivalents that can be used perfectly on humanoids. In this study, scientists developed a method to construct a skin equivalent that can be a better option for humanoids. This method can be used to cover the 3D surface of a robotic finger while controlling tissue shrinkage.
In the experiments, they confirmed the effectiveness of their fabrication method of skin equivalent with staining and functional analyses with electrical measurements and water retention tests. Moreover, to show the wound healing ability of the skin equivalent, they demonstrated that the wounded dermis equivalent covering the robotic finger can be repaired by grafting and culturing a collagen sheet onto the wound site.
In conclusion, this research is a major step toward allowing robots to have a combination of living materials and artificial materials. With this new development, humanoids would exhibit superior sensory capabilities, highly efficient energy conversion, self-organization, and self-heal functions like living organisms. This was far the most difficult to achieve for artificial materials alone. Scientists demonstrated the possibility of not only reconstructing the visual texture of the skin but also replicating the unique capabilities of living organisms in this study. Scientists believe this experiment would bring a new era for humanoids and a big step in making the best human-like robots.
"Living Skin on a Robot." ScienceDirect, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590238522002399.
"Scientists Make 'Slightly Sweaty' Robot Finger with Living Skin." Guardian, www.theguardian.com/science/2022/jun/09/scientists-make-slightly-sweaty-robotic-finger-with-living-skin.