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The main advantage of growing skin on the finger directly is that it’s always going to be a perfect fit, allowing the device to bend easily. | Photo source Takeuchi et al

Scientists put living skin on a robot ‘finger’

Computing & Tech

Researchers have developed a way to ‘grow’ self-healing living skin onto a robot finger

Spotted: Scientists at the University of Tokyo have created a robot finger covered in living skin. The finger has living cells and can even heal itself – a development that may bring us one step closer to more human-like robots. The robotic finger also represents an advance over previous attempts to lay living skin over three-dimensional, dynamic objects.

To produce the digit, the team first created the robot finger, then submerged it in a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the main components of the skin’s connective tissues. This provided a scaffold for the growth of human epidermal keratinocytes, which are grown on top. The skin feels like normal skin, and, when damaged, a collagen bandage can be placed on the skin, which helps it to heal.

According to the researchers, the main advantage of growing skin on the robotic finger directly is that it creates a perfect fit and allows the finger to bend easily. Although similar skin models have previously been used for cosmetic and drug research and testing, this is the first time it has been used on a working robot.

Lead researcher Shoji Takeuchi comments that, “Our creation is not only soft like real skin but can repair itself if cut or damaged in some way. So, we imagine it could be useful in industries where in situ repairability is important as are humanlike qualities, such as dexterity and a light touch. In the future, we will develop more advanced versions by reproducing some of the organs found in skin, such as sensory cells, hair follicles and sweat glands. Also, we would like to try to coat larger structures.”

Developments in robotics are increasingly moving towards giving robots a sense of touch. This is seen as vital for developing robots that are more responsive to the environment and have greater practical applications. Springwise has recently covered a number of innovations in areas such as creating an artificial skin that allows robots to sense pressure and the presence of toxic substances, and an electronic skin that provides haptic feedback. 

Written By: Lisa Magloff

Website: u-tokyo.ac.jp

Contact: u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/people

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