Japanese scientists create realistic, self-healing skin for robots

Published 03rd Jul 2024 by Michelle Duffield

Scientists at Tokyo University in Japan have developed artificial skin for robots that is soft like real skin and can repair itself if cut.

The breakthrough, inspired by human anatomy, promises advancements in humanoid robotics and aesthetic medicine.

The scientist team successfully attached "living" artificial skin to robot faces, creating more realistic smiles and other facial expressions.

The researchers said this breakthrough was inspired by the structure of human skin ligaments, and now paves the way for convincingly realistic, moving humanoids with self-healing skin that will not easily rip or tear. 

The skin is soft and can repair itself, addressing one of the major challenges in previous attempts to integrate living skin with robots.

Past efforts to attach skin to robots has been difficult, primarily due to the damage caused by mechanical movements.

The team initially tried using mini hooks to anchor the skin, but this method proved problematic as it damaged the skin.

To overcome this, the researchers took inspiration from human anatomy. In humans, skin is anchored to underlying structures by ligaments made of flexible collagen and elastin.

To replicate this, the team drilled numerous tiny holes into the robot's surface and applied a collagen-containing gel before layering the artificial skin on top.

The gel filled the holes and securely tethered the skin to the robot, allowing it to move with the mechanical components without tearing or peeling away.

Lead researcher Professor Shoji Takeuchi explained, "By mimicking human skin-ligament structures and using specially made V-shaped perforations in solid materials, we found a way to bind skin to complex structures. The natural flexibility of the skin and the strong method of adhesion mean the skin can move with the mechanical components of the robot without tearing or peeling away."

The research, published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, concluded that while this technology shows promise, it will take many more years of testing before it becomes a practical reality.

One of the remaining challenges is to create human-like expressions by integrating sophisticated actuators, or artificial muscles, within the robot.

In addition to advancing robotics, this technology is likely to also have applications in research on skin ageing, cosmetics, and surgical procedures, including plastic surgery.

Michelle Duffield

Michelle Duffield

Published 03rd Jul 2024

Michelle is the editorial assistant to Aesthetic Medicine magazine.

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