When we speak about the future of lifelike robots, we spend a lot of time taking about artificial intelligence. Or the movement of the machine's limbs, or its capabilities to grasp and handle objects.
But then there is the robot's appearance.
Science fiction movies and TV shows are full of cyborgs who look remarkably similar to humans. Sometimes, you can't tell the difference between the bot and the real thing!
We're still a long ways away from that happening. But a new innovation out the University of Tokyo has created living tissue that can cover a machine like skin.
Yes, you read that right. Living skin for robots that can bend, stretch, and wrinkle much as our own!
Based on human tissue
There is a reason why this skin is so good at mimicking the real thing. It is made from actual human tissue.
The skin is made from a combination of collagen and dermal fibroplasts. (Collagen is an important protein that is found in the skin, bones, tendons, cartilege, and connective tissues of animals, including humans. Fibroplasts give our skin structure.) The skin is then coated with epidermal cells, which gives it the water repellant abilities of actual skin.
One of the researchers behind the project, Professor Shoji Takeuchi, is very pleased by his team's success so far, which has seen them place the skin over a mechnical finger.
"We are surprised by how well the skin tissue conforms to the robot's surface," he wrote in their recent study. The skin can even heal itself from a tear with the help of a collagen bandage!
Better, but not perfect
This skin is a huge improvement over silicon, the substance usually used to create lifelike textures on robots and machines. Though silicon is smooth and skin-like to the touch, it doesn't bend or wrinkle anything like how actual skin does.
Check out this video of the bending finger in action to see for yourself.
Pretty remarkable! So far, the major downside is that the skin is much weaker than human skin and needs a continual supply of nutrients. In other words, it's not able to stay alive on its own.
But Professor Takeuchi is excited to continue to improve the skin, as well as give it the ability to grow hair, sweat, sense touch, and all of the other things our skin does.
All of which makes us say, "Wow! Our skin is really some amazing stuff! Sorry for taking you for granted!"