Scientists tout 'smiling' face made of human skin cells, say technology will be used on AI robots

Scientists at Harvard have taken a material developed at the University of Tokyo using human skin cells and formed it into a face capable of "smiling." The substance is living and consists of a cultured mix of human skin cells that grow over a collagen frame, attached to a silicon mold.

The technology has only been successfully tested on flat surfaces, however the team is trying to get it to work on humanoid molds as well. Researchers have touted its potential to be used on artificial intelligence-powered robots in the future to make them more palatable to human beings.

According to New Scientist, while similar experiments have been done in the past, what sets this one apart is the material's ability to portray emotions. This is due to the fact that it contains ligament-esque components that, in humans, hold the skin in place and allow it to stretch and move.

"As the development of AI technology and other advancements expand the roles required of robots, the functions required of robot skin are also beginning to change," leader of the Harvard team, Michio Kawai, told the outlet, predicting that people may be more willing to interact with robots that have human-like skin.

In a paper submitted to Cell Reports Physical Science, Kawai and his team explained how emotions are achieved. "The silicone layer," they explained, "is pulled at the corners of the mouth by external mechanical actuators through perforation-type anchors, allowing the dermis equivalent at the corners of the mouth to be raised. The elevation of the subcutaneous tissue in the cheek area is also reproduced by the curvature of the pulled silicone layer, allowing the robotic face to display a natural smile."

In an interview with the Times, the creator of the material, Professor Shoji Takeuchi said the "skin" was capable of repairing itself if damaged, adding that, "integrating sensory functions like touch and temperature detection is more feasible with living tissue."

He expressed optimism that a more realistic-looking skin material would be developed soon by "incorporating sweat glands, sebaceous glands, pores, blood vessels, fat, and nerve cells," but noted that it would take another decade of research before a robot resembling a human would be used on a regular basis.

Image: Title: Face