Wrapping robots in laboratory-grown human skin can help us feel more relaxed when interacting with them.


June 9, 2022

Finger of a robot with living skin

Shoji Takeuchi / University of Tokyo

Robots can now be covered with live skin raised by real human cells to look more like us.

As robots increasingly take on roles such as nurses, caregivers, teachers and other jobs that involve close personal contact, it is important to make them look more human so that we feel comfortable communicating with them, he says. Shoji Takeuchi at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

Currently, robots are sometimes coated with silicone rubber to give them a fleshy appearance, but the rubber does not have the texture of human skin, he said.

To make the skin look more realistic, Takeuchi and his colleagues bathed a robot’s plastic finger in a soup of collagen and human skin cells called fibroblasts for three days. Collagen and fibroblasts adhere to the finger and form a dermis-like layer, which is the second of the top layer of human skin.

They then carefully poured other human skin cells, called keratinocytes, onto the finger to recreate the top layer of human skin called the epidermis.

The resulting skin 1.5 millimeters thick is able to stretch and contract when the finger bends back and forth. As she did so, she wrinkled like normal skin, Takeuchi said. “It’s much more realistic than silicone.”

The robot’s skin can also be healed when it is cut by grafting a collagen sheet onto the wound.

However, the skin began to dry out after a while, as there were no blood vessels to fill it with moisture.

In the future, it may be possible to include artificial blood vessels in the skin to keep it hydrated, as well as sweat glands and hair follicles to make it more realistic, Takeuchi said.

In addition, it should be possible to make different skin colors by adding melanocytes, he says.

Now researchers plan to try to cover an entire robot in living skin. “But because this research area has the potential to build a new relationship between humans and robots, we need to carefully consider the risks and benefits of making it too realistic,” Takeuchi said.

Reference in the magazine: Matter, DOI: 10.1016 / j.matt.2022.05.019

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