Scientists in Japan have developed a highly realistic looking robot child, named Affetto, which can detect changes in pressure via its synthetic skin, enabling it to ‘feel’ pain.
Affetto is able to feel and distinguish between a light touch or a hard hit and, while this might seem cruel, the team behind the robot said it will help robots to understand and empathise with humans.
Affetto has been equipped with a “pain nervous system” that is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and custom skin tech that allows it to react to sensations using a variety of facial expressions.
When the bot made its debut appearance in 2011, it was only a head capable of showing facial expressions such as smiling and frowning. Now it has a full body that is covered by artificial skin equipped with sensors.
Lead researcher on the project, Minoru Asada, explained: “Engineers and material scientists have developed a new tactile sensor and attached it to a child robot called Affetto that has a realistic face and body skeleton covered in artificial ‘skin.’
“Affetto can discriminate soft and hard touches from the detected signals, and studies show that attaching skin sensors to Affetto helps it avoid ‘pain.’
“’Social’ robots are being programmed to show empathetic reactions to pain in others through a mirroring mechanism similar to that reported in humans.”
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In 2018, Hisashi Ishihara, from Osaka University, said: “Android robot faces have persisted in being a black box problem: they have been implemented but have only been judged in vague and general terms.
“Our precise findings will let us effectively control android facial movements to introduce more nuanced expressions, such as smiling and frowning.”
While it may be a long time before robots become the norm, already in Japan they are being deployed in nursing homes, offices and schools in an effort to cope with the ageing population and shrinking workforce.