Synthetic Skin Allows Robot to Feel Pain

To meet challenges caused by aging populations, labor shortages, and rising costs, robots have begun popping up in places like nursing homes, hospitals, and homecare. To be effective, artificial intelligence will need to be able to identify and empathize with pain and discomfort that patients may be going through. This will help robots make a social connection with the people they serve.

Engineers from Osaka University in Japan have outfitted a robot with synthetic skin that can feel “pain”. Sensors embedded in the skin react to changes in pressure. Different types of touches elicit different types of reactions. Give the robot a soft touch and it may react favorably. A hard punch may cause it to get upset.

“A touch-sensitive, soft material, as opposed to a rigid metal surface, allows richer interactions between machine and world. Artificial skin allows the possibility of engagement in versatile and truly intelligent ways,” said neuroscientist Kingson Man of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Child Robot Affeto Displayed Emotion

The group’s previous project was a child-like robot named Affeto. The robot’s face included 116 points which allowed it to display a variety of expressions depending on how it was interacted with. It was able to show emotions like fear, joy, and sadness.

Minoru Asada, an engineer on the project, presented the research team’s latest work on February 15, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle. According to the team, this is the first step in creating a robot that “feels pain” and more importantly recognizes pain in others. This could be quite valuable in developing robots that interact with people who are elderly or disabled.

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