Robot appendage coated in living skin tissue unveiled by scientists

Could intelligent and humanlike robots seen in Terminator and Blade Runner be just around the corner?

Hours after a Google software engineer claimed the company’s AI technology had become sentient, Japanese scientists announced an evolution in engineering which makes them look more realistic.

University of Tokyo researchers have bioengineered a robotic human finger coated in living skin tissue, which they say has the potential to be a “paradigm shift”.

A robotic tissue coated in cultured tissue has been developed by scientists in Japan. Source: Takeuchi et al.
A robotic tissue coated in cultured tissue has been developed by scientists in Japan. Source: Takeuchi et al.

Biohybrid robot pioneer Professor Shoji Takeuchi demonstrated his creation will be able to repair itself if it is cut or damaged.

This was achieved by covering a small wound with a collagen solution and then incubating it for seven days.

In the Terminator film franchise, robots were coated in human-like skin. Source: Getty
In the Terminator film franchise, robots were coated in human-like skin. Source: Getty

“In the future, we will develop more advanced versions by reproducing some of the organs found in skin, such as sensory cells, hair follicles and sweat glands,” he said.

“Also, we would like to try to coat larger structures.”

The team believes cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and regenerative medicine all could benefit from the development.

Futurist welcomes finger development but issues AI warning

Futurist Dr Richard Hames welcomed the advancement, believing its humanlike qualities make robots visually more acceptable to society.

The finger has basic motor skills (top) and can heal if damaged (bottom). Source: Takeuchi et al.
The finger has basic motor skills (top) and can heal if damaged (bottom). Source: Takeuchi et al.

“Anything that allows a robot to look, feel and be present in a more human form is going be more relatable,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“The other thing is familiarity because, with any kind of invention, familiarity with the robot will help integration much more easily.

“Otherwise, it can be rejected, out of hand without question, and I don't think that's necessarily a good idea.

Where Dr Hames urges caution is development of trans-body augmentation like entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Neuralink project.

This involves implanting brain-machine interfaces and its development has included questionable clinical trials which resulted in the deaths of monkeys during experiments.

“Where he's talking about embedded devices, I don't think that’s very wise at all,” he said.

As AI and robotics continue to develop, Dr Hames is campaigning against the monopolisation of knowledge by multinational corporations.

“The large tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, are really controlling not just the information we get, but how we think about that information,” he said.

“And that clearly is unhealthy. It can't be good.”

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