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Science & Tech: Scientists Create Robot Face With Lab Grown Living

SCIENCE & TECH: Scientists create robot face with lab-grown living skin

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It’s the face of the future.

A team of scientists unveiled a robot face covered with a delicate layer of living skin that heals itself and crinkles into a smile in hopes of developing more human-like cyborgs.

The skin was made in a lab at the University of Tokyo from a mixture of human skin cells grown on a collagen model and placed on top of a 3D-printed resin base, the New Scientist reported.

Scientists on the project — who published their findings in Cell Reports Physical Science on Tuesday — believe the living skin could be a key step in creating robots that heal and feel like humans.

The skin was grown in a lab at the University of Tokyo. 2024 Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND / SWNS

“This living skin would be particularly useful for robots that interact closely with humans, such as health care, service, companion and humanoid robots, where human-like functions are needed,” Professor Shoji Takeuchi told the Times of London.

The lab-grown skin has been attached to a simple, tiny robot face that is capable of smiling — and the tissue can heal itself.

“The skin can repair itself if damaged, similar to how human skin heals wounds,” Takeuchi explained. 

“And integrating sensory functions like touch and temperature detection is more feasible with living tissue.”

The skin’s dermal cells were cultured first, and the epidermal cells were then added on top to complete the structure, he added.

The skin has a layer for dermal cells topped by epidermal cells. 2024 Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND

The skin was attached to the robot face using what Michio Kawai of Harvard University described to the New Scientist as “perforation-type anchors” that perforate the resin base and create small cavities for the tissue to fill in.

The perforations are actually the equivalent of the flexible, strong ligaments that humans and animals have beneath their skin, Takeuchi told the Times of London.

“It creates a smooth, strong bond between the skin and the robot … 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,” he noted.

While the lab-grown skin still does not resemble actual human skin very closely, Takeuchi said the latest work is still crucial.

“We’ve identified new challenges, such as the necessity for surface wrinkles and a thicker epidermis to achieve a more human-like appearance,” he said.

The skin can heal itself and move to form a smile. 2024 Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND / SWNS

“We believe that creating a thicker and more realistic skin can be achieved by incorporating sweat glands, sebaceous glands, pores, blood vessels, fat and nerves.”

The skin’s capabilities also have surprising implications for the cosmetics industry, Kawai told the New Scientist.

When scientists made the robot smile for one month, they found that the tissue replicated the appearance of expression wrinkles in the skin, he said.

The skin tissue adheres to the robot using a system that mimics human ligaments. 2024 Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND / SWNS

“Being able to recreate wrinkle formation on a palm-sized laboratory chip can simultaneously be used to test new cosmetics and skincare products that aim to prevent, delay or improve wrinkle formation,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the experts are back in the lab.

“It may take up to 10 years of research and development before living skin can be used by robots that interact with people regularly,” Takeuchi said.

“However, we are making progress, and with continued efforts, this vision could become a reality within the next decade.”

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