Robots With Living Human Skin

Shoji Takeuchi and colleagues from the Department of Mechano-Informatics and the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo have developed a method for coating a robotic finger with living human skin. Their findings were published in the journal Matter. Scientists believe a new class of skin-covered robots could more effectively interact with their human counterparts.

There are three benefits to using living cells as a coating material for robots. First, by using the same skin material as humans, a more human-like appearance can be achieved. Second, the biological properties of cells can be used to provide robot skin with multimodal and multichannel sensing capabilities, self-repair capabilities, and metabolic capabilities that are difficult to achieve with artificial materials alone. Third, by using biological materials, robots can be made more environmentally friendly,” Takeuchi told Syfy Wire.

To get the skin onto the robotic appendage, scientists submerged it in a combination of collagen and human skin cells. Over time, the mixture attached itself to the finger, creating a first layer of skin. A second liquid containing keratinocyte cells — the dominant cells found in the epidermis — was then applied creating an outer layer. After a couple of weeks, the robotic finger had skin which was comparable in width to our own. Previous studies grew skin-like structures separately and later applied them to a synthetic surface. This new strategy has benefits over previous methods, in that it allows for the application of skin over uneven surfaces.

We found that we could adapt the skin to the curved 3D surface shape by culturing it on site, rather than making it elsewhere and attaching it to the surface. By installing an appropriate anchor structure, the entire surface could be covered,” Takeuchi said.

At present, the skin does not deliver any sensory information to the robot, but the team is working on incorporating a nervous system for just that purpose. The skin also doesn’t include any circulatory system for delivering nutrients to the tissue. As a result, it needed external assistance to acquire nutrients and for the removal of waste products. That means it spent a considerable portion of its time in a bath of sugars and amino acids.

“We are conceiving strategies to build circulatory systems within the skin. Another challenge is to develop more sophisticated skin with skin-specific functions by reproducing various organs in the skin such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands,” Takeuchi explained.

That’s not to say the skin isn’t impressive even as it exists today. The current version was able to stretch with the finger as it bent or straightened and even healed itself after injury. Researchers made a small cut on the surface of the finger and then applied a collagen bandage. The cells of the skin then connected to the bandage and incorporated it into the skin, healing the wound.

Of course, the process will need to be scaled up if researchers hope to cover an entire humanoid robot in convincing human skin. A robot with disconnected pieces of skin might be even more terrifying to its human acquaintances than one with no skin at all. Now, that would be a dystopian nightmare better left to our fictions.

Source: https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/

Electronic Skin To Restore Sense Of Pain

Amputees often experience the sensation of a “phantom limb”—a feeling that a missing body part is still there. That sensory illusion is closer to becoming a reality thanks to a team of engineers at the Johns Hopkins University that has created an electronic skin. When layered on top of prosthetic hands, this e-dermis brings back a real sense of touch through the fingertips.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again,” says the anonymous amputee who served as the team’s principal volunteer tester.

Made of fabric and rubber laced with sensors to mimic nerve endings, e-dermis recreates a sense of touch as well as pain by sensing stimuli and relaying the impulses back to the peripheral nerves.

We’ve made a sensor that goes over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and acts like your own skin would,” explains Luke Osborn, a graduate student in biomedical engineering. “It’s inspired by what is happening in human biology, with receptors for both touch and pain“This is interesting and new,” Osborn adds, “because now we can have a prosthetic hand that is already on the market and fit it with an e-dermis that can tell the wearer whether he or she is picking up something that is round or whether it has sharp points.”

The work in the journal Science Robotics – shows it is possible to restore a range of natural, touch-based feelings to amputees who use prosthetic limbs. The ability to detect pain could be useful, for instance, not only in prosthetic hands but also in lower limb prostheses, alerting the user to potential damage to the device.

Human skin contains a complex network of receptors that relay a variety of sensations to the brain. This network provided a biological template for the research team, which includes members from the Johns Hopkins departments of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Neurology, and from the Singapore Institute of Neurotechnology.

Bringing a more human touch to modern prosthetic designs is critical, especially when it comes to incorporating the ability to feel pain, Osborn states. “Pain is, of course, unpleasant, but it’s also an essential, protective sense of touch that is lacking in the prostheses that are currently available to amputees,” he says. “Advances in prosthesis designs and control mechanisms can aid an amputee’s ability to regain lost function, but they often lack meaningful, tactile feedback or perception.

Source: http://releases.jhu.edu/