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Scientists Cover Robotic Finger With 'Human Skin'

More and more humanoid robots are equipped with synthetic skins developed to be as realistic as possible. Japanese scientists have gone further by covering a robotic finger with real self-healing skin made from living human cells. Details of the study are published in the journal Matter.

Humanoids are robots capable of performing a wide range of tasks to interact with humans. They will be increasingly important in the future in medical care facilities or the service industry. Their human appearance then improves the efficiency of the exchange of information and evokes sympathy.

To do this, it is imperative that the coating materials offer characteristics that remind us of those of human skin. These coatings should also have a self-healing ability , because the humanoids covered with these materials will be intended to function in uncertain and dynamic task environments. However, this is not the case with silicone rubber, traditionally used in the construction of humanoids, which brings us back to our study.

For the first time, researchers from the University of Tokyo propose the development of a coating made of real human cells.

Skin capable of healing

Led by Professor Shoji Takeuchi, the team started by building an articulated robotic finger that could bend and straighten like its human counterpart. This finger was then immersed in a solution composed of collagen and dermal fibroblasts humans. These are the main components of the connective tissues of our skin.

As the researchers expected, this solution very quickly shrunk to conform to the contours of the finger, forming a seamless hydrogel coating. The team then added a layer of human epidermal keratinocyte cells , which make up 90% of our epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). These then formed a moisture-retaining and water-resistant barrier on top of the gel and gave the finger a more natural texture.

When the robotic device was subsequently tested, the skin was found to be strong and elastic enough to bend and stretch with the finger. It also formed a moisture-retaining and water-resistant barrier. Even more interesting:when the skin was cut and then covered with a collagen bandage, this bandage gradually turned into skin itself , thus healing the wound.

A promising breakthrough

Obviously this is just the beginning. This artificial skin, as similar as it is, is still very fragile and must still be constantly supplied with nutrients to survive. Researchers plan to work on these issues and add other features such as fingernails, sweat (sweat) glands, hair follicles, and even sensory neurons (sense of touch).

Eventually, such a structure could ultimately be used to make humanoid robots more realistic, but also to conduct skin research without resorting to tests on humanoids. animals .