Robots can now be built with living humanlike skin

For the first time, scientists learned to grow humanlike skin on a robotic finger using cells, a new study revealed.

Unlike artificial skin that is commonly used when building robots, this skin is alive, said lead study author Shoji Takeuchi, project professor in the department of mechanical and biofunctional systems at the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo.

"Living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and touch of living creatures," Takeuchi said.

His research team chose a robotic finger for the experiment because this mechanism is well studied and a critical part of a robot, he said.

The humanlike skin is made using the same building blocks as human skin, Takeuchi said.

The robotic finger was first submerged in a solution of collagen, which is a fibrous protein, and human dermal fibroblasts, the two major components that make up human skin. Dermal fibroblasts are the primary cell type in the connective tissue of the skin.

After the solution conformed around the finger, Takeuchi applied human epidermal keratinocytes to the outside. A keratinocyte is the main type of cell that makes up the human epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, he said.

In the trials, the elastic human skin moved freely while the finger made different motions, Takeuchi said. His team put a collagen bandage on a part of the finger that had been inflicted with a wound to mend it, and the robot was able to move freely after the protein repaired the skin.

The skin could also repel water, which expanded what tasks the robot could perform.