Scientists Grew Human Skin on Sweaty Robotic Fingers

Progress towards the goal of robots that look more human just took a big step. Though it was more like a wave. Scientists successfully added human skin cells to a robot finger. The skin form fit to the electronic skeleton. Our characteristic folds and wrinkles quickly formed. Maybe humanity building terrifying Terminator robots isn’t so unrealistic after all.

The skin can even heal using collagen bandages. Astronauts on the International Space Station recently tested similar first aid bioprinting technology. One limitation is that the skin cells will dry out since they’re not connected to the rest of our human systems. They require a moisturizing liquid goo bath in between uses, as shown below.

According to a news release from EurekAlert, the scientists next plan to add other elements to the skin. Including hair follicles and nails as well as a sense of touch and even sweat glands. They also mention working on skin cells to cover robotic faces as a future focus of study. We learned about this research from The Guardian. More (slightly phallic) pictures and videos are available through the open-access peer-reviewed journal Matter that published the study.

A robotic finger coated with human skin cells in a petri dish of pink goo
Shoji Takeuchi

“The finger looks slightly ‘sweaty’ straight out of the culture medium,” says one of the study’s authors, Shoji Takeuchi. “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.” 

So even to the researchers, it’s a bit uncanny. Many research groups are working to make robots more human-realistic. There’s even a company that will make a robot version of you, for a price.

A robotic finger covered in human skin cells quickly gets the same folds and wrinkles as our own hands
Matter/Kawai et al

This is definitely scientific progress, but it still seems a bit unsettling. I can’t quite put my finger on why. 

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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