Realistic-looking child android Affetto can ‘feel’ pain

Robots that mimic humans are getting so entrancing and becoming smarter. However, they lack the emotions and feelings of guilt, sadness, happiness, pain, and suffering.

A small group of Japanese scientists has created the child-like ‘human’ head that they claim capable of ‘feeling pain.’ The robot, called Affetto (Italian for affection), was first announced in 2011. When presented earlier, it showed a range of expressions, such as smiling and frowning. These facial expressions can be created through soft materials such as skin covering the robot using 116 different face points.

And now, this realistic-looking robotic child’s head can “feel pain” or human suffering thanks to the synthetic skin that the team from Osaka University in Japan is working on.

A human-like head reacts to electrical charges applied to his synthetic skin and visibly winces with the ‘pain’. The synthetic skins with an artificial in-built pain sensor system detect changes in pressure on the skin, such as soft touches or hard punches. The fabric, similar to our nervous system that can feel pain, is connected to an android robot that is able to react to these sensations or pain through facial expressions.

Minoru Asada, one of the scientists involved in this project, presented the results of the team’s work at this month’s American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.

“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,'” explained the lead researcher on the project, Minoru Asada.

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,” said Hisashi Ishihara, from Osaka University in 2018. “Our precise findings will let us effectively control android facial movements to introduce more nuanced expressions, such as smiling and frowning.

The creation of Affetto aims to create more realistic social robots that can interact deeper with humans. Also, the synthetic skin that will allow robots to feel heat, cold, and pain could be “life-changing” for people with prostheses. This could provide emotional and physical assistance to Japan’s aging society.

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