Pain plays a vital role in shaping how we interact with our world and each other, and it plays a pivotal role in helping us determine what’s safe and what isn’t. By helping robots experience pain it’s hoped that it will help them too stay out of harms way.


German researchers have announced that they are trying to teach robots to feel pain by developing what they call an “Artificial nervous system,” that Johannes Kuehn and Sami Haddadin, from Hannover’s Leibniz University, say could be used to make robots experience painful sensations.


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Part of the idea is to allow the machines to detect things around them that could cause them damage, for example, if a robotic arm got jammed in a piece of machinery, the ‘painful’ sensation may make it try to remove itself, in the same way a human would instinctively pull their hand away from a sharp object.

“Pain is a system that protects us. When we evade from the source of pain, it helps us not get hurt,” says Kuehn, one of the researchers on the project.



This mechanism can also be applied to robots, even if they might not feel pain in the same way we do, but while the pairs project could potentially protect robots from damage, it might help keep their human colleagues safer as well.

In the future, a growing number of robots, and co-bots, will work side by side with humans, and by teaching them to avoid painful collisions or accidents, the chances of a human worker getting hit on the head by a giant robot arm could be reduced.

In tests, the researchers equipped a robot arm with a small fingertip sensor, covered with artificial tissue which mimics the structure of human skin.


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The sensor transmits ‘pain’ sensations when it detects hard pressure or high temperature, and can even classify different inputs as ‘mild’, ‘medium’ or ‘severe’ pain.

If the sensor is squeezed or pressed, the arm leaps out of the way, just like a human would if someone applied too much pressure to a fingertip.

It’s early days for the technology, but it may become essential as robots become a bigger part of our lives.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.


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