Living Skin on Robots: A Leap Forward in Bioengineering

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Living Skin on Robots: A Leap Forward in Bioengineering

Reading time: 15 min

  • Kiara Fabbri

    Written by: Kiara Fabbri Multimedia Journalist

  • Justyn Newman

    Fact-Checked by Justyn Newman Head Content Manager

Humanoid robots could soon look and act more like us, thanks to a new method for attaching lab-grown biological skin tissue published this week by researchers at the University of Tokyo.

The Engineer reports Professor Takeuchi (the lead of the research team) highlighting the potential of Robot’s skin to self-heal: [unlike chemical-based self-healing] “Biological skin repairs minor lacerations as ours does, and nerves and other skin organs can be added for use in sensing and so on”.

The research team drew inspiration from the structure of human skin ligaments. To achieve this, they created V-shaped perforations on the robots’ face. A layer of skin tissue was then applied, adhering to the perforations through a collagen gel. Previously, attaching skin tissue to robots relied on miniature anchors or hooks. These methods limited the types of surfaces that could be covered and could damage the skin during movement. The new method using perforations can be applied to any shape, offering greater flexibility and durability.

The press release from the University of Tokyo discussing Takeuchi’s research, suggests that sensors could be embedded beneath the skin. This would allow robots to gather information about their environment through touch, similar to how humans do.

CNN reports that Takeuchi and his team aim to incorporate additional sensory functions in the upcoming research phase, “to make the skin more responsive to environmental stimuli,” says Takeuchi. This richer sensory data could be used by AI to better understand the world around them and make more informed decisions.

As the research progresses, the potential to create robots that can heal themselves, sense their environment more on a biological level, and perform tasks with human-like dexterity becomes increasingly tangible. While Takeuchi et al.’s research focuses on the physical capabilities of robots, advancements in AI are happening simultaneously. For instance, a humanoid robot named Figure 01 recently demonstrated impressive conversational intelligence using visual inputs. Figure 01’s capabilities highlight the potential for future AI to interact with the world in a more human-like way.

Takeuchi said that: “Realistic facial expressions enhance the robot’s ability to communicate and interact with humans more naturally and effectively [… ] This is particularly important in applications such as healthcare, where empathy and emotional connection can significantly impact patient care.”
In this context, ethical considerations become more important. How will we ensure that robots with advanced sensory perception and potentially self-preservation instincts interact with the world in an ethical manner? Inquiries like this are complex questions that AI developers and ethicists will need to address.

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