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Robots taught to feel pain: scientists create new synthetic skin

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Artificial skin can help robots turn on self-preservation mode

Chinese scientists have developed a synthetic skin that will allow robots to feel pain and be able to respond to danger. Everything will work in much the same way as in the human body, when signals from the nerves reach the brain.

The development of Jie Tan and his colleagues from Hunan University in China was reported by New Scientist. Artificial skin can help robots detect danger, just as pain triggers the instinct for self-preservation in humans.

Pain in humans results from a complex interaction between peripheral nerve signals and their interpretation by the brain. The human skin has pain sensors called nociceptors. They transmit electrical impulses through the nerves to several parts of the brain, activating the self-preservation system, for example, when it is necessary to move your hand away from a sharp knife.

The pain sensing system for robots developed by scientists will work thanks to zinc and gallium crystals. According to the researchers, the crystals react to excessive force and release electrons, creating an electrical signal.

In addition to the electrical signal, the crystals will also emit a flash of light, which will help to pinpoint the exact location where the robot feels pain.

"Thanks to the simultaneous use of electrical and optical signals, the intensity and localization of pain can be perceived simultaneously. This will function like a natural nociceptor," Tan explained the technology.

The researchers have also developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that will help the robot determine which "stimulus" should be avoided. So far, the algorithm has been trained on 100 different electrical and optical readings of a knife, a chopstick, and a cotton ball pressed on a sensor. In this way, the algorithm learned to distinguish between harmful and harmless objects that can give similar readings.

The researchers have also developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that will help the robot determine which "stimulus" should be avoided. So far, the algorithm has been trained on 100 different electrical and optical readings of a knife, a stick, and a cotton ball pressed on a sensor. In this way, the algorithm learned to distinguish between harmful and harmless objects that can give similar readings.

According to the scientists, the robotic arm successfully distinguished between safe and harmful objects in 97.5% of cases. In particular, the AI understood that the robotic arm could safely hold tofu or a boiled egg, but immediately rejected hard objects such as a ball with iron spikes.

During their work, the scientists also found other applications for this engineered skin. They attached it to a rat's heart, liver, and lungs while a surgical robot performed a biopsy. Signals received by the robot from the skin guided its arm in such a way as not to damage these organs.

Scientists also suggest that such synthetic skin can be built into surgical instruments. This will allow surgeons to feel things from a distance.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that scientists have developed synthetic skin that can heal wounds on its own.

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