Japanese scientists develop ‘Terminator’-style robotic fingers

‘It’s interesting to hear the sound of the motor in harmony with a finger that looks like a real one,’ University of Tokyo expert says

<p>All-new technique is reminiscent of doomsday sci-fi scenarios like the ‘Terminator’ films</p>

All-new technique is reminiscent of doomsday sci-fi scenarios like the ‘Terminator’ films

A way of covering a robotic finger with living human cells has been developed by Japanese scientists.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo were able to give the artificial digit skin-like texture, as well as making it water-repellent and self-healing.

The new breakthrough is more than a little reminiscent of the T-800 Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the sci-fi film franchise, whose fictional hunter-killer robot featured “living tissue over a metal endoskeleton” that helped it inflitrate groups of human resistance fighters battling the evil Skynet AI.

Professor Shoji Takeuchi, who has authored a study on the new technique, said: “The finger looks slightly ‘sweaty’ straight out of the culture medium.

“Since the finger is driven by an electric motor, it is also interesting to hear the clicking sounds of the motor in harmony with a finger that looks just like a real one.”

Looking “real” like a human is one of the top priorities for humanoid robots that are often tasked to interact with humans in healthcare and service industries.

Prof Takeuchi said a human-like appearance can improve communication efficiency and evoke likeability.

While current silicone skin made for robots can mimic human appearance, he explained that it “falls short” when it comes to delicate textures such as wrinkles and lacks skin-specific functions.

Previous attempts at fabricating living skin sheets to cover robots have also had limited success, since it is challenging to conform them to dynamic objects with uneven surfaces.

Prof Takeuchi said: “With that method, you have to have the hands of a skilled artisan who can cut and tailor the skin sheets.

“To efficiently cover surfaces with skin cells, we established a tissue moulding method to directly mould skin tissue around the robot, which resulted in a seamless skin coverage on a robotic finger.”

To craft the skin, the Tokyo team first submerged the robotic finger in a cylinder filled with a solution of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts, the two main components that make up the skin’s connective tissues.

Prof Takeuchi says the study’s success lay in the natural tendencies of the collagen and fibroblast mixture, which shrank and tightly conformed to the finger.

Just like paint primers, the layer provided a uniform foundation for the next coat of cells – human epidermal keratinocytes – to stick to.

The cells make up 90 per cent of the outermost layer of skin, giving the robot a skin-like texture and moisture-retaining barrier properties.

Prof Takeuchi said: “The crafted skin had enough strength and elasticity to bear the dynamic movements as the robotic finger curled and stretched.

“The outermost layer was thick enough to be lifted with tweezers and repelled water, which provides various advantages in performing specific tasks like handling electrostatically charged tiny polystyrene foam, a material often used in packaging.”

When wounded, he said the crafted skin could even self-heal just like humans’ with the help of a collagen bandage, which gradually morphed into the skin and withstood repeated joint movements.

Prof Takeuchi said: “We are surprised by how well the skin tissue conforms to the robot’s surface. But this work is just the first step toward creating robots covered with living skin.

“The developed skin is much weaker than natural skin and can’t survive long without constant nutrient supply and waste removal.”

Now Prof Takeuchi and his team plan to address those issues and incorporate more sophisticated functional structures within the skin, such as sensory neurons, hair follicles, nails, and sweat glands.

He added: “I think living skin is the ultimate solution to give robots the look and touch of living creatures since it is exactly the same material that covers animal bodies.”

The study was published in the journal Matter.

SWNS

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in