Scientists Just Made a Smiling Robot With Skin

Be very afraid

Skin robot
We now live in a world where "robots with skin" is a thing.
University of Tokyo

There’s a whole subgenre of science fiction that asks an unnerving question: at what point will humanity create robots that are indistinguishable from us? Movies and television shows like Ex Machina and Battlestar Galactica have asked this question in very different ways, many of them unnerving, and now we’ve come one step closer to science fiction being science fact. Or, to phrase it more concisely: robots have skin now.

A group of scientists recently published a paper in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science detailing their efforts to replicate the look and behavior of human skin in the context of robots. The study’s authors wrote about being “inspired by the structure of skin ligaments” and how this technology could “potentially [contribute] to advancements in biohybrid robotics.”

One of the study’s authors, Shoji Takeuchi, also heads the Biohybrid Systems Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. In a statement, he detailed the genesis of this new technology, which arose after being frustrated by the “skin” on a previous robotic effort.

“By mimicking human skin-ligament structures and by using specially made V-shaped perforations in solid materials, we found a way to bind skin to complex structures,” Takeuchi explained. “The natural flexibility of the skin and the strong method of adhesion mean the skin can move with the mechanical components of the robot without tearing or peeling away.”

This resulted in the artificial skin being able to smile when the team tested it. Takeuchi expressed confidence that this technology could also lead to other breakthroughs, including giving robots the capacity for self-healing along similar lines as the way human skin can heal itself.

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Unfortunately, the paper does not indicate whether or not the scientists were inspired by Lou Reed’s video for the song “No Money Down,” which featured a robotic Reed doppelganger tearing the skin from its face. There has to be some overlap somewhere between biohybrid studies and Lou Reed studies — right?

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