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First “Living” Robot Skin

A robotic arm for astronauts The robotic arm developed by DLR will be able to perform complex tasks on earth or in space with its many movement options. It is controlled by programming or, as we see here, by imitating the movements of a human.

Will we one day be able to build robots that look just like humans?

Scientists from the University of Tokyo have created a skin that resembles human skin and is also alive. In a study published in the journal Matter, they present a robotic finger covered in organic skin that has water-repellent and healing functions.

 

An advance that may seem insignificant, but that brings us much closer to true humanoids! To obtain this texture, the researchers used an assembly of living cells and collagen produced in vitro. A blend inspired by biological implants used in medicine to treat severe wounds and burns. They first dipped the robotic finger into a mixture of human dermal fibroblasts and collagen to reproduce the equivalent of the dermis, and then covered the whole thing with human epidermal keratinocytes to create an epidermis. The whole then shrank as it solidified, surrounding the finger and forming folds similar to those of real skin.

 

The advantage of our method of covering 3D objects with the equivalent of skin is the use of tissue shrinkage during culture, which allows conformal covering of 3D objects, especially those with curved and uneven surfaces. write the researchers. The skin formed and then shrank as the mixture into which the robotic finger was dipped solidified. The team then performed multiple movements with the robotic finger to test the skin’s support and elasticity, and also assessed the barrier function of the skin equivalents produced in vitro using electrical measurements and water retention tests, the researchers write. And everything has held up very well! The finger looks slightly wet straight out of the growing medium, Takeuchi enthused.

 

Since the finger is powered by an electric motor, it’s also interesting to hear the click of the motor in harmony with a finger that looks like real-healing properties. In fact, after the robot finger was injured, the researchers applied a collagen bandage: the bandage gradually fused with the skin, thus rebuilding it! The wound was repaired by dermal fibroblast activity after the collagen foil was applied to the wound site. These results show the applicability of robots covered in living materials to biological functions and offer a new perspective on robotic materials. Going forward, the team plans to add sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails and sweat glands.

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