Researchers from Tokyo have developed a face for a robot that consists of living skin. This could soon make humanoid robots appear more human. The experiment should also help improve plastic surgery.

It may look slimy, but it's friendly: A research team at the University of Tokyo has found a new way to give robots a more human appearance. They have grown skin from living human cells and attached it to a machine with eyes.

Robots: Researchers develop face from human skin

The team, led by Professor Shoji Takeuchi, was inspired by the ligaments of human skin for the experiment, according to a report from the university. The artificial skin tissue is not only as soft as human skin, but can also repair itself if it is damaged. To attach it to a humanoid robot, the scientists inserted a special perforation.

Takeuchi is considered a pioneer in the field of biohybrid robotics, where biology and mechanical engineering meet. So far, his laboratory has developed mini robots that run using biological muscle tissue. 3D-printed, lab-grown meat is also part of his portfolio, as is the new artificial skin.

“By mimicking human skin-ligament structures and using custom-made V-shaped perforations in solid materials, we have found a way to bond the skin to complex structures,” said Takeuchi. “The skin's natural flexibility and strong nature of adhesion mean that the skin can move with the robot's mechanical components without tearing or peeling off.”

The new anchoring method allows the flexible skin tissue to adapt to any shape it is attached to. In this case, that means a relatively flat robot face can suddenly smile – giving it a human-like expression.

Experiment provides data on the development of human skin

Not only does it help the robot to look more and more lifelike, the cosmetics industry could also benefit. In one experiment, for example, the research team made the robot face smile for a month and studied the formation of expression lines in the skin. Further research could be useful for training plastic surgeons.

The latest results of the study were published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science However, the researchers assume that many years of testing are still needed before the technology can be used in everyday life. “Another important challenge is to create human-like facial expressions by integrating sophisticated actuators or muscles into the robot,” explains Takeuchi.

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