Tech News : Robots Get Living Skin

A team of Researchers at Tokyo University have found a way to bind engineered living skin tissue to robots with the hope of benefitting the cosmetics industry and helping to train plastic surgeons.

New Method Of Adhesion 

The team (led by Professor Shoji Takeuchi) has reported that whereas previous methods to attach skin tissue to solid surfaces involved mini anchors or hooks, which limited the kinds of surfaces that could receive skin coatings, the new successful method mimics human skin-ligament structures. The new method uses specially made V-shaped perforations in solid materials, thereby enabling the team to bind skin to complex structures. The natural flexibility of the skin with this effective method of adhesion means that the skin can move along with the mechanical components of robots without tearing or peeling away.

Created A Smiling Face 

Professor Takeuchi highlighted how, in their latest research, the team was able to “replicate human appearance to some extent by creating a face with the same surface material and structure as humans”. The photos of the prototype robot’s skin-covered face show it with a smile (achieved through actuation and via anchors).

New Challenges Identified 

Professor Takeuchi said that although the team has undertaken previous research on a finger-shaped robot covered in engineered skin tissue, this new research identified new challenges for future efforts. For example, the team discovered the need for skin surface wrinkles and a thicker epidermis to achieve a more humanlike appearance, suggesting that creating a thicker and more realistic skin could actually be achieved by incorporating sweat glands, sebaceous glands, pores, blood vessels, fat and nerves.

Looking to a future where robots could be covered in their own living skin layer, Professor Takeuchi acknowledged the importance of movement. He highlighted the challenge of creating humanlike expressions “by integrating sophisticated actuators, or muscles, inside the robot” and expressed how “incredibly motivating” is the thought of being able to create “robots that can heal themselves, sense their environment more accurately and perform tasks”. 

Professor Takeuchi also highlighted the scale and scope of the challenge of creating living skin for robots that’s self-healing, saying that “Self-healing is a big deal – some chemical-based materials can be made to heal themselves, but they require triggers such as heat, pressure or other signals, and they also do not proliferate like cells.” 

He added that “Biological skin repairs minor lacerations as ours does, and nerves and other skin organs can be added for use in sensing and so on.”

Goal 

Although they created a smiling skin face in the research, Takeuchi and his lab are keen to emphasise that they have a serious goal in mind for this application in terms of helping in several areas of medical research. For example, Takeuchi suggests that something like a “face-on-a-chip” could be useful in “research into skin aging, cosmetics, surgical procedures, plastic surgery and more”. Also, Takeuchi said that if sensors could be embedded, robots may be able to gain a better environmental awareness and improve their interactive capabilities.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The apparent breakthrough achieved by Professor Shoji Takeuchi and his team at Tokyo University could signify a profound transformation in various industries, particularly cosmetics and medical training. For businesses in these sectors, the integration of living skin tissue onto robotic platforms presents exciting opportunities.

In the cosmetics industry, for example, this innovation could revolutionise product testing and development. Traditionally, cosmetic products undergo testing on synthetic materials or live animals, both of which have limitations and ethical concerns. However, the use of robots with human-like skin could offer a more accurate and ethical alternative. Companies could test how their products interact with human skin, including how they are absorbed, how they affect skin texture, and their long-term impacts. This method may not only ensure a higher fidelity of results but also align with increasing consumer demand for cruelty-free products.

For businesses involved in medical training and plastic surgery, the ability to simulate human skin on robotic models could be a real game-changer. These advanced robots could provide surgeons and medical students with realistic practice scenarios that better prepare them for real-life procedures. The potential to replicate various skin conditions, responses to surgical interventions, and healing processes on these models could enhance the educational experience and lead to better patient outcomes. Also, the development of self-healing skin technologies could extend the lifespan and utility of these training models, reducing costs and improving training efficacy.

This innovation could also open new avenues in fields such as robotics and human-computer interaction. Robots equipped with human-like skin and the ability to heal and sense their environment more accurately could lead to advancements in service robotics, elderly care, and rehabilitation. Businesses in these areas could see improvements in the functionality and acceptance of their robotic products, as the ability to mimic human touch and appearance enhances the user experience and trust.

The research also hints at future possibilities where robots could be more seamlessly integrated into daily life, performing tasks that require a human touch. For instance, in hospitality or customer service industries, robots with human-like skin could provide more personalised and engaging interactions, setting new standards for customer experience.

Overall, the development of robots with living skin tissue is not just a scientific curiosity but appears to be a significant leap forward with practical implications. Businesses that adapt and integrate this technology early may expect to lead in their respective fields, offering innovative solutions that were previously unimaginable. Whether through enhancing product testing, improving medical training, or advancing interactive robotics, this breakthrough could provide a unique competitive edge and open up a world of new possibilities.

Tech News : Self-Healing Skin Developed For Robots

Hmm, where have we seen this before? Stanford University scientists have created a multi-layered, self-healing electronic skin for robots and prosthetics that has a sense of touch and can realign itself autonomously when cut.

Layered Polymers 

The research team created the synthetic skin using thin layers of rubber, latex (natural polymers), and other polymers including PPG (polypropylene glycol) and PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane, also known as silicone). These layered polymers were chosen because they have rubber-like electrical and mechanical properties, biocompatibility, and can be mixed with nano or microparticles to enable electric conductivity and hydrogen bonding can be used to turn them into a durable, multilayer material that resembles human skin.

Self-Healing 

Heating of the synthetic skin and the viscosity and elastic responses of the materials it’s made from means it’s able to heal and re-align itself in about 24 hours. As it ‘heals’ the synthetic skin can re-align and re-assemble itself due to the addition of magnetic materials to its polymer layers.

Sensation  

The Stanford scientists also reported that the current prototype of the skin was engineered to sense pressure, and in future versions, additional layers engineered to sense changes in temperature or strain could be included.

Uses 

One of the research team’s envisioned uses for the synthetic skin includes a skin that can be used to wrap robots and prosthetics, giving them self-healing properties and a human-like sense of touch.

Swallowing Mini Surgeon Robots 

One other exciting future usage of this material envisioned by the team is robots that could be swallowed in pieces and then self-assembled inside the body to perform non-invasive medical treatments!

One of the co-authors of the study, Chris Cooper PhD says: “We’ve achieved what we believe to be the first demonstration of a multi-layer, thin film sensor that automatically realigns during healing. This is a critical step toward mimicking human skin, which has multiple layers that all re-assemble correctly during the healing process”. 

Another co-author of the study Sam Root (postdoctoral researcher), says of the synthetic skin, “It is soft and stretchable. But if you puncture it, slice it, or cut it— each layer will selectively heal with itself to restore the overall function,” Root describes it as “Just like real skin.”  

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new multi-layered approach using dynamic polymers could be a major step forward that could give robots and prosthetics a layer of skin that can not only ‘feel’ sensations but can (quickly) heal and re-align itself when damaged, just like human skin. This is the stuff of science fiction and although it is still early days, this technology could create some amazing opportunities in the world of robots and for patients in medicine. The research team also envision using the materials to create self-assembling surgeon robots that could be swallowed and carry out minor procedures inside the body which could save costs, reduce waiting lists, and mean faster healing times for patients. The combination of robotics, AI, and this new skin technology could create a range of new robots and prosthetics that are more human-like and more useful than ever taking us one step further to a future that has until now, seemed a long way off.