This smiling robot face made of living skin is absolute nightmare fuel

Giving robots a human-like exterior has been the standard for years — centuries even. But giving them actual, living skin that can be manipulated horrifying, slimy expressions? That’s new.

The new work, published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, is very much just an experiment. This will not be the face of your next smart home hub or vacuum.

But it may well be that the ingenious machinery produced by billions of years of evolution may be better in some situations than artificial skin (also very much in development) or simpler surfaces. This brings up several questions — many, in fact, but only one is really the topic of the paper, as is proper in scientific inquiry.

To wit: how would such a living tissue surface, whatever its advantages and disadvantages, attach to the mechanical foundation of a robot’s limb or “face”?

In humans and other animals, there is a network of ligaments that anchors the skin to underlying muscle and tissue. This works pretty well, I’ve found. And the researchers at the University of Tokyo and Harvard wanted to test whether they could create a version of this that let living skin both cling closely to an artificial substrate, and also be manipulated in various directions without tearing or unintended distortion.

How did their “dermis equivalent” turn out? I’ll let you be the judge:

Image Credits: University of Tokyo

Ah, nightmare fuel. But you can’t accuse it of being anything less than well-moisturized.

Of course it’s horrifying now, but it’s not intended to be realistic or beautiful — just to illustrate a potential method for attachment of living tissue to robotic undercarriage.

Yes, that is in fact exactly what a Terminator T-100 model has, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Skin-covered robots could do all kinds of useful stuff in addition to infiltrating the past to destroy humanity’s future.

Cultured skin, as they put it, can heal itself, carry biological sensors like our own to provide sensitive touch, and could also have benefits in medical or human interaction contexts.

But only if it can stay alive on there and also be moved around in the same ways our own skin is during everyday use. That’s part of what the paper is intended to show: a working method for attachment and manipulation that conceivably could be used on — or as — a face.

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