Home Bots & Brains Living skin tissue for humanoid robots

Living skin tissue for humanoid robots

by Marco van der Hoeven

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a method to bind engineered skin tissue to the complex structures of humanoid robots, potentially enhancing their mobility, self-healing abilities, sensory capabilities, and lifelike appearance. Led by Professor Shoji Takeuchi, the research team was inspired by human skin ligaments and incorporated special perforations in the robot’s face to help the skin adhere more effectively. This innovation could benefit the cosmetics industry and assist in training plastic surgeons.

Professor Takeuchi, a pioneer in biohybrid robotics, heads the Biohybrid Systems Laboratory, which has previously created mini robots using biological muscle tissue, 3D printed lab-grown meat, and engineered self-healing skin. His recent research focused on improving the adhesion between robotic features and engineered skin tissue. The team used V-shaped perforations and a special collagen gel to bind the skin to the robot’s surface, employing plasma treatment to ensure the collagen penetrated the perforations.

Previous attachment methods, such as mini anchors or hooks, limited the types of surfaces that could receive skin coatings and risked damage during motion. The new approach allows any shaped surface to have skin applied. The engineered skin offers significant advantages, including the ability to self-heal and potentially incorporate nerves and other skin organs for sensing.

Takeuchi highlighted the complexities of working with biological tissues, noting the importance of maintaining sterility to prevent tissue death. The new method allows living skin to confer robots with abilities like self-healing, which chemical-based materials cannot replicate. The research also aims to create a face-on-a-chip for medical applications, including studying skin aging, cosmetics, and plastic surgery. Embedded sensors could further enhance robots’ environmental awareness and interactive capabilities.

The study also identified new challenges, such as the need for surface wrinkles and a thicker epidermis for a more humanlike appearance. Future goals include incorporating sweat glands, sebaceous glands, pores, blood vessels, fat, and nerves into the engineered skin. Another key challenge is integrating sophisticated actuators or muscles to achieve humanlike expressions and dexterity. Takeuchi believes that creating robots with these capabilities is highly motivating and holds great promise for the future of robotics.

Image credit: Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND

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