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To make them smarter, researchers are teaching robots to feel pain

Reuters/Rafael Marchante
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By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

How can you make a robot more intelligent? Teach it to feel pain.

Pain, though unpleasant, is an important warning signal for humans and can protect someone from serious injury. It’s for this reason that researchers from Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany have developed an artificial nervous system for robots, teaching them to feel pain and quickly react to potential damage.

Researchers Johannes Kuehn and Professor Sami Haddadin fitted a BioTac fingertip sensor to a Kuka robotic arm. They based their model on insights from human pain research, deciding how much pain the robot should feel for a given force.

Under light pain, the robot experiences mild discomfort and retracts until the contact is over. The robot retracts quicker and at a greater distance under moderate pain and goes into a passive mode under severe pain, which improves the safety of the robot.

Researchers presented their work at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Stockholm. It builds on previous research, where scientists built a robot arm that avoided collisions with people.

While the robot avoided collisions with people, it didn’t do so for its own safety. Researchers suggests the robot’s ability to feel pain is important, not only to protect itself, but for human safety as well, particularly those who work in close proximity with robots.

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