Japanese scientists have developed small robots that can relieve pain and anxiety by wearing them

Scared of watching a horror movie alone? Maybe, you need a hug from a plush robot? Just like this, scientists have proved through experiments that when this fluffy guy gently hugs your hand, it can effectively relieve your pain and fear.

Don't look at this trumpet "Dabai" who looks cute and keeps emphasizing his "chest muscles" during work:

This is indeed a serious study, from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and the paper has been published in Scientific Reports.

Relieve pain and fear with airbags

The structure of the small robot itself is not complicated, it mainly consists of three airbags and a pressure sensor, and its skin is made of soft fur material. 

Control: The robot is externally connected to a pneumatic system consisting of an air pump and a solenoid valve. The external pneumatic system is independently controlled by Arduino Nano V3.0. Pressure sensors detect the wearer's grip when the robot "lies" on the back of the person's hand.

In this way, when the wearer clenches his fists because of negative feelings such as fear and pain, the small robot can inflate the airbag and hold them back. In fact, such a design is based on relevant research in physiology and psychology: physical contact between people can effectively relieve people's pain and fear. In order to verify whether this robot can also play the same role, the researchers organized 66 adult volunteers to participate in the study.

Specifically, there were three control groups in the experiment:
  • C1 is the no-feedback group. That is, during the experiment, the wearer can hold the robot freely, but the robot will not give any feedback.
  • C2 is the random feedback group. That is, during the experiment, the robot randomly inflates the airbags.
  • C3 is the response action group. That is, the robot will choose whether to inflate according to the movement of the wearer.
During the experiment, the researchers used thermal stimulation to simulate pain.

And use the Pain Assessment Scale (PAS), measure salivary oxytocin and cortisol levels, injection fear scale, and other methods to judge whether the small robot relieves the pain and fear of the volunteers. The experimental results showed that when wearing a small robot, the volunteers' subjective pain scores were significantly lower than when they were empty-handed (p<0.01).

In the C3 condition, when wearing the small robot, the salivary oxytocin level of the volunteers tended to decrease (p=0.051). Overall, the volunteers' cortisol levels were also significantly lower at the end of the experiment than at the beginning of the experiment (p=0.003). Oxytocin levels and cortisol levels are often used to gauge the subjects' pain levels. In addition, the results of the Injection Fear Scale showed that after participating in the experiment, the fear of the participants decreased significantly (p<0.001).

To briefly summarize, this research mainly proves that soft and fluffy social robots have great potential in alleviating human pain/fear through human-computer interaction. Imagine if there was such a robot that held your hand tightly when you were vaccinated. Parents no longer have to worry about their children crying after getting an injection (manual dog head).

The researchers also said that in the future, they want to further integrate AR technology to achieve more human-computer interaction functions, so as to develop solutions that can actually alleviate patients' negative emotions during the process of people's medical treatment. This research comes from Tian Zhongxiu's laboratory at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, which aims to develop companion robots that can relieve people's loneliness, anxiety, and pain. Well, this is very Japanese.

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