Self-Healing ‘Living Skin’ Could Make Robots More Humanlike


Imagine robots covered in lifelike skin that can heal itself just like human skin. Thanks to new research, this could soon become a reality.

Scientists have developed a method using cultured cells and silicone to create skin that not only looks realistic but also has the elasticity of human skin.

This advancement means robots could smile and move more naturally, making them seem more human.

How It Works

Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo have come up with a novel approach.

They inject artificially grown skin into tiny holes in a robot’s skeleton.

The skin then extends V-shaped hooks, known as “perforation-type anchors,” which latch onto the robot’s surface.

This method prevents the skin from sagging or detaching, maintaining a smooth and flexible appearance.

Image credit: Shoji Takeuchi, Institute of Industrial Science (IIS), the University of Tokyo

Benefits of the New Skin

  • Self-Healing: The artificial skin can repair minor cuts and scrapes by itself, much like human skin. This means robots can operate alongside humans without needing frequent maintenance.
  • Realistic Appearance: Unlike synthetic materials like latex, cultured skin looks more lifelike. The new method of attaching the skin ensures it remains firmly in place without any lumps or visible adhesives.

    Demonstrations and Findings

    In a demonstration, the researchers showed how the skin reacts when a robot smiles.

    By connecting the artificial skin to the robotic face with a silicone layer underneath, they replicated the way human cheeks inflate and push up at the corners of the mouth.

    The skin fit the 3D mold of the face perfectly, with no protruding hooks.

    The study also compared skin with and without the perforation-based anchors.

    They found that skin without anchors shrank by up to 84.5% in seven days, while skin with anchors shrank much less, retaining its lifelike appearance longer.

    Future Steps

    Lead researcher Shoji Takeuchi mentioned several improvements needed before this skin can be widely used:

    • Durability: Enhancing the skin’s durability and longevity by addressing nutrient and moisture supply. This might involve developing integrated blood vessels within the skin.
    • Strength: Improving the mechanical strength of the skin to match natural human skin by optimizing the collagen structure.
    • Sensory Functions: Eventually, artificial skin will need to convey sensory information like temperature and touch, and resist biological contamination.

    Broader Implications

    This research could advance our understanding of facial muscles and emotions, leading to breakthroughs in medical treatments for conditions like facial paralysis.

    It might also expand capabilities in cosmetics and orthopedic surgery.

    Furthermore, a better grasp of skin adhesion could eliminate the need for V-shaped holes in future robotic designs.

    This exciting development brings us closer to creating robots that can seamlessly integrate into human environments, looking and acting more like us than ever before.