Scientists have grown the skin of a living person around a robot finger


This advancement brings Terminator-like cyborgs one step closer to reality.

The Terminator could be one step closer to reality.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have created a robotic finger that, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular cyborg killer, is covered with living human skin. The goal is to one day create robots that look like real people, albeit for more altruistic applications.

Extremely realistic-looking robots could more easily interact with humans in healthcare and services, bio-hybrid engineer Shoji Takeuchi and colleagues say June 9 in Matter . (Whether cyborgs disguised in living tissue are more comfortable or creepy is probably up to the viewer.)

To cover the finger with skin, Takeuchi and his colleagues immersed the robotic digit in a mixture of collagen and human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts. The mixture settles on the base layer of skin or dermis covering the finger. The team then poured a liquid containing human keratinocyte cells onto the finger, which formed the outer layer of skin, or epidermis. After two weeks, the thickness of the skin covering the finger was several millimeters, which can be compared to the thickness of human skin.

The lab-made skin was strong and elastic enough to withstand the bending of the robot’s fingers. It could also heal itself: When the researchers made a small cut on the robot’s finger and covered it with a collagen bandage, the skin’s fibroblast cells fused the bandage with the rest of the skin within a week.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo covered this robotic finger with living human skin to pave the way for ultra-realistic cyborgs.

“This is very interesting work and an important step forward in this field,” said Ritu Raman, an MIT engineer who also builds machines with living components. “Biological materials are attractive because they can dynamically sense and adapt to their environment.” For example, she would like to see a future version of living robot skin with embedded nerve cells to make robots more aware of their surroundings.

But the robot can’t yet wear this lab-grown leather suit outside, Raman points out. The skin-covered robotic finger spent most of its time soaking up sugar, amino acids, and other ingredients skin cells need to survive. A Terminator or other cyborg wearing this skin would have to bathe frequently in nutrient broth or use some other elaborate skin care.

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