Scientists are aiming to fit humanoid robots with human skin tissue.
Don't call Sarah Connor just yet; this isn't the birth of the first Terminator. Fortunately, this new development isn't the precursor to mankind's impending doom. In fact, researchers will be using these robots for something beneficial to humans.
Many patients the world over need tissue transplant. Skin tissue transplants in particular are extremely beneficial to patients. Donated skin tissue can help treat burns and traumatic injuries. It can also help protect the patient against infections as well as aid in cleft palate repair.
Tissue grafts and transplants aren't always completely successful, though. At times, the tissue has a very low cell count or structural problems. These problems are mostly due to the fact that the tissue did not grow the way normal human tissue does. Two researchers from Oxford University have found a way to meet all the criteria of a completely successful tissue transplant. In their paper, Pierre-Alexis Mouthuy and Andrew Carr propose growing tissue on robots in order to produce something more “lifelike”.
Nowadays, tissue transplants aren't reaching their full potential. Or, maybe they have, and it's time to move on to a better source of human tissue for transplants. Sheets of tissue cells grow in very stagnant environments, such as bioreactors. Bioreactors contain a lot of nutrients beneficial to the growth of cells, but do not supply much more than that. Though bioreactors can successfully grow and cultivate tissue cells, the tissue produced does not always perform well.
For human tissue to grow and function properly, it needs to stretch and move along the natural movement of human bodies. Tissue cells from bioreactors do not get to experience the same thing, and thus develop a variety of problems. Patients who need tissue transplants will benefit more from well-grown tissue.
With these findings, Mouthuy and Carr propose that the solution is letting humanoid machines “wear” human tissue. These humanoids will be able to mimic the way humans move and interact with their surroundings. The tissue will get to experience the natural, human-like movement it needs to be able to grow properly.
Humanoid bots like Kenshiro at the University of Tokyo can supply the movement the tissue needs. Kenshiro's movements are actually quite close to the way humans move. The technology is thus already there, and the good news is that it's growing in a fast pace. Robotics is one of the branches of science that has made significant progress over the past decades. The next step, therefore, is to figure out how to successfully grow tissue cells on a robot.
Scientists already have an idea on how to do this. Their goal is to replicate the human musculoskeletal system as closely as possible in humanoid robots. This includes bones, muscles, and tendons. Patients can then be able to receive tissue specially made for specific body parts. For example, tissue for a hand will grow on a robot hand. Thus, the tissue will be able to adapt to its recipient more easily and naturally.
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