Researchers are Developing Robots that Feel Pain

Science fiction is now science fact? Researchers narrow the gap between man and machine, developing a robot that can sense and react to pain. The technology is expected to improve interaction between machines and humans, especially in the industries.

Two researchers at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany presented the project at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm, Sweden. One of the goals of the research was to provide machines with the ability to avoid damage to internal and external parts. The model's responses are similar to how humans react and respond to pain through assessment. The model then avoids the source of pain, thereby successfully preventing further damage its body.

However, the idea raises concerns, especially for those familiar with Isaac Asimov's portrayal of artificial intelligence. Some of Asimov's science fiction stories involve self-aware robots with sinister or at the very least apathetic motives. Johannes Kuehn, one of the researchers, maintains that pain is the body's protective and preventive response to stimuli.

"Pain is a system that protects us," Kuehn said in an interview with IEEE Spectrum . "When we evade from the source of pain, it helps us not get hurt."

A prototype controller showcased the technology, installed with a BioTac tactile fingertip sensor that is pressure and temperature sensitive. The design is similar to human skin structure, calibrated to simulate pain from different levels of force, pressure or temperature.

The system also delivers pain signals in repetitive spikes, similar to neurons. The pain controller reacts after classifying the signals as light, moderate or severe. Teaching robots this range of stimuli is crucial in the development of artificial intelligence, according to a BBC report.

Kuehn said the technology not only protects robots from damage but also ensures a safer working environment in industries which involve manually-operated machines. Machines able to detect damage early on can pre-empt potential harm to humans, by sending reports or shutting down operations.

Kuehn noted the increasing trend in automation, with robots operating in close proximity with humans. The technology can help minimize accidents in industries and can also streamline operations by ensuring efficient coordination between the automated and manual aspects of production.

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