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Japanese scientists use 'living skin' to create humanoid robot

Japanese scientists use 'living skin' to create humanoid robot
Photo Credit: Pixabay
10 Jun, 2022
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Scientists at the University of Tokyo in Japan are inching us closer to the ‘robotic reality’ with a new method for applying ‘living skin’ to a robot.  

While humanoid robots are already underway and are increasingly been adopted for personal assistance and caregiving at hospitals, offices and homes, the researchers said that this is the “first step toward creating robots covered with living skin”.

A study published in science journal ‘Matter’ details the experiment, in which researchers covered a robotic finger with an approximation of human skin. Researchers anticipate that this technology will have a wide range of practical applications. 
“The technology developed in this research to create cultured skin robots is expected to be utilized in the industries where its reparability and human-like qualities are important, in the development of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals for skin, lab-grown leather and in the field of regenerative medicine as transplantation materials,” said Shoji Takeuchi, professor at the Institute of Industrial Sciences at the University of Tokyo and an author of the study. 

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The team said that more lifelike humanoids would be able to interact with people more naturally in a range of roles, including in nursing care and the services industry. 

Also read: AI-powered robot chefs now chew on food to hone tasting skills

Looking “real” like a human is one of the top priorities for humanoid robots that are often tasked to interact with humans in healthcare and service industries. Prof Takeuchi said a human-like appearance can improve communication efficiency and evoke likeability. 
While current silicone skin made for robots can mimic human appearance, he explained that it “falls short” when it comes to delicate textures such as wrinkles and lacks skin-specific functions. 

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Previous attempts at fabricating living skin sheets to cover robots have also had limited success, since it is challenging to conform them to dynamic objects with uneven surfaces. 

Explaining the process, Prof Takeuchi said, his team first submerged the robotic finger in a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts - the two main components that make up the skin’s connective tissues. The natural tendencies of the collagen and fibroblast mixture shrank and tightly conformed to the finger. 

When wounded, he said the crafted skin could even self-heal just like humans’ with the help of a collagen bandage, which gradually morphed into the skin and withstood repeated joint movements. 
Prof Takeuchi said, now his team plans to address those issues and incorporate more sophisticated functional structures within the skin, such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands. 

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 “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 said. He added that such advances had the potential to “build a new relationship between humans and robots”. 

The Humanoids Market was valued at nearly $580 million in 2020 and is expected to register a CAGR, which is expected to be over 40%, during the period of 2021 – 2026, said Hyderabad-based market research firm Mordor Intelligence.

“Advancements in artificial intelligence are increasing the demand for humanoid and companion robots because these skills enable robots to behave and understand as a human and enhance interactions,” it said, adding that there will be more ‘innovative concepts in the space in the coming months.”

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