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Researchers Create Real-Life Terminator with Self-Healing Fungal Skin
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Researchers Create Real-Life Terminator with Self-Healing Fungal Skin

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
June 12, 2024
3 min

What if, one day, robots aren’t just cold, metallic machines but instead covered in a living, breathing skin that can react to surroundings and self-heal? While this may sound like something straight from a dystopian sci-fi movie, scientists have achieved just that: a robot with organic, growing tissue that can adapt to its environment. Inspired by the chilling concept of “The Terminator,” researchers have used fungi mycelium to grow living skin on a mechanical being. While this disturbing advancement isn’t nearly as sinister as it sounds, it makes us question where the line between life and machine truly lies.

The dawn of living machines

robot1 1
\"Fungal Skin for Robots\": Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky

Image source: Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky, “Fungal Skin for Robots”

Research duo Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky from the University of West England started this project to determine the feasibility of integrating fungi with robots. Mycelium, the root-like structure of fungal organisms, has growth patterns and regenerative capabilities that mimic those of human skin. Since it’s a living organism, it can self-heal by growing new cells when damaged. Mycelium networks also exhibit electrical activity that changes in response to external stimuli like light and touch. Since this process is very similar to neural signals in living organisms, it can be used to provide sensory feedback to machines, allowing them to detect and respond to their surroundings more efficiently. All of these qualities make mycelium the perfect candidate for creating a responsive and life-like skin for robots.

With a bit of mad scientist fun, Gandia and Adamatzky created an effective demonstration of how mycelium could grow on and interact with robotic surfaces.

How fungal skin works

robot4 1
\"Fungal Skin for Robots\": Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky

Image source: Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky, “Fungal Skin for Robots”

To bring their vision to life, Gandia and Adamatzk chose a realistic, smaller-scale model of the Terminator robot. The figurine was sterilized to remove contaminants and then coated with a nutrient-rich agar medium, which would serve as fertile ground for the mycelium to grow and spread across the robot’s surface.

Over time, the mycelium began to colonize on the Terminator model, and within a few days, it completely took over the mechanical structure to form a cohesive and living skin. The mycelium’s ability to conform to the contours and features of the Terminator model indicates its potential to grow on non-organic substrates and adapt to the various shapes and sizes of robotic systems.

Perhaps most excitingly, when the researchers exposed the mycelium skin to changes in external simulation, it exhibited electrical activity. They measured the responses and found that it was capable of processing and responding to sensory information (1).

As noted in the study:

“The observed electrical responses of the mycelium to external stimuli demonstrate the potential of mycelium as a natural sensor. As a form of biotechnology, this functionality could have far-reaching applications. For instance, creating robotics with a new level of tactile

sensing, which could improve their performance in different applications, such as grasping delicate objects or working in unknown or unstructured environments. We could also raise buildings constructed with mycelium-infused materials that could self-regulate and respond to environmental changes, enhancing sustainability and energy efficiency. Similarly, mycelium-based wearables could monitor bodily conditions and react in real-time, creating a new paradigm for personalised medicine and self-preservation.”

Future implications for robotic design

Gandia and Adamatzky’s significant achievement could one day transform the design and functionality of modern robots. Since the fungal skin can process sensory information, it can be particularly useful for applications that require more delicate handling, such as robotic surgeries or automated manufacturing processes. The self-healing capabilities of the mycelium skin could allow robots to maintain their structural integrity and functionality over longer periods without the need for frequent repairs. 

Nonetheless, since the experiment was conducted on a smaller scale, it’s likely that scaling up to larger robotic systems will face significant challenges. More research and development will be needed to ensure that the mycelium skin maintains consistent growth and structural integrity. 

“As we continue to push the boundaries of what is achievable with mycelium, solving these question marks will make us step closer to a future where bio-cybernetic systems are a part of our everyday lives,” the researchers conclude. 


References

  1. Gandia, Antoni, and Andrew Adamatzky. 2024. “Fungal Skin for Robots.” Biosystems 235 (January): 105106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biosystems.2023.105106.

Header image courtesy of Antoni Gandia and Andrew Adamatzky, ‘Fungal Skin for Robots,’ Research Square, 2023. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.


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science
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

1
The dawn of living machines
2
How fungal skin works
3
Future implications for robotic design
4
References

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