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Designing skin for robots was out of reach for a long time, but last week, scientists announced they successfully made the first autonomous robot with full-body skin!

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Robot skin

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[ ♪INTRO ].

Robot designs have come a long way. But there's one thing we haven't been able to give our mechanical creations: skin.

I mean, obviously we've been able to coat robots in plastics that look like skin — or, just enough like skin to be terrifying. But a sensitive outer layer that really acts like skin has remained out of reach… until now, apparently. Last week, scientists publishing in the journal Proceedings of the IEEE outlined how they made the first autonomous robot with full-body skin.

Artificial skin is a holy grail of sorts for robotics because a better sense of touch could help robots in a lot of ways. They need to really feel — like we do — to excel at everything from maintaining balance to performing delicate medical procedures. But making skin isn't as simple as slapping on a bunch of sensors.

The skin itself needs to be tough but flexible, so it doesn't get in the robot's way. And perhaps the biggest issue is computing power. A large sheet of sensors produces an unbelievable amount of data.

Luckily, as the team explained in their paper, we're finally at a point where engineering and computing can come together to make robot skin a reality. The researchers started with individual hexagonal “cells” measuring about 3 centimeters across. Each is packed with sensors that can detect things like temperature, pressure, and acceleration, and can connect to up to four other sensors to form patches of artificial skin.

In all, the team was able to give a human-sized robot more than thirteen thousand sensors without interfering with its ability to move about. That was the easy part. The real challenge was solving the data problem.

And they did that in a really cool way: by mimicking human skin. Our skin has millions of sensors in it that can detect things like heat, vibration, and pressure. And as amazing as these computers in our heads are, even they would be overloaded if all of those sensors were continuously sending data.

That's why they don't. Some feed information to our brain frequently, but others only send signals when something changes dramatically. And that is the thing the engineers mimicked.

Instead of having each sensor constantly feeding information to the central computer, they designed sensors that only send signals when there's something important to share. Thanks to its human-inspired skin, the team's humanoid robot was able to complete sensitive physical tasks like sorting oranges based on their squishiness and giving people hugs. The team has even integrated the cells into prosthetics to help people with spinal cord injuries learn to walk again.

And they hope their robotic skin will eventually help all sorts of machines make sense of the world around them — so they can be even more useful to us. In other news, new research in the journal Science Advances suggests modern reef-building corals may have an ancient strategy to survive climate change. Stony corals have been around since at least the Triassic, so they've survived a lot in their time on Earth.

One way they did that was a process called rejuvenescence. You see, what we think of as a coral is actually a big colony made up of countless little individual polyps. Those are small, anemone-like creatures that build snug-fitting calcium carbonate skeletons around themselves.

And fossils suggest that when times get really tough, these polyps can shrink and hunker down in smaller shelters. It's thought that the shrinking cuts the polyp's energetic costs — a bit like moving into a studio apartment to save on rent and utilities. Then, the surviving polyp can grow again when conditions improve.

The only thing is, no one had ever seen this in a living coral. Paleontologists had pieced together the idea from fossils of mini-polyps inside the skeletons of larger ones. But since 2002, scientists working off the Mediterranean coast of Spain have been involved in a huge coral monitoring project.

They've been keeping an eye on over 240 individual colonies of cushion coral and documenting what happens to them year after year. Each fall, they'd dive down and record any heat-induced damage with photos and sketches. And at first, things seemed pretty bleak.

A lot of the corals died from the stress of unusually warm summer waters. But as they kept taking their logs, it turned out many of the dead colonies were just mostly dead. Extreme close-up photographs revealed tiny, living polyps hidden in their old skeletons.

And years after a major mortality event, these little survivors were able to regrow. The scientists eventually saw at least some recovery in about 40% of the colonies that had seemed dead. And 13% of them had returned to almost full health after a decade.

The time delay for recovery might be part of the reason why we haven't seen rejuvenescence in living corals before. Either the colonies weren't monitored long enough after they seemed to die, or, if records weren't precise, recovered colonies might have been mistaken for ones that were never damaged. The authors think lots of different corals may ride out bad conditions this way — though, to be fair, they only examined one species.

So we'll need to take a closer look at other corals to see if they can similarly bounce back. And none of this lets us off the hook for anything. Coral reefs are still struggling, and they will continue to struggle if we keep filling the oceans with trash and dialing up the planet's thermostat.

But findings like this give us additional hope that if we do clean up our act, these wonderful animals might be able to flourish again someday. [Hank] And that's not all the news I have to share today! We here at SciShow have an announcement as well:. Our psych channel has a new host: It's Anthony Brown!

And we're really excited to have you. Anthony is a man of many talents: performer, producer, musician, and beatboxer… [Anthony] Oh yeah. [ANTHONY STARTS BEATBOXING] [Hank] Oh, uh, I feel the flow coming on…. Ah, Ah, Ok An-tho-ny is our new psych host.

He's got lots of talents of which to boast He comes from Wisconsin, the land of cheese. And he'll be breaking down all of the psychology He'll be joining the channel with me and Brit. He's going to be awesome at hosting it.

So let's say Hi to our new Psych MC And welcome him to the SciShow family! [Anthony stops beatboxing] [Hank] Wow…. Am I fired? Will I ever live that down?

Or is this… [Anthony] It was pretty good! [Hank] Anyhow, Anthony's first episode will be airing next week over on So if you aren't subscribed to the channel, now is a good time to check it out! Thanks for joining us, Anthony. [Anthony] Thank you! [ ♪OUTRO ].