German researchers from the Leibniz University of Hannover are conducting research into how to make a robot feel pain. Perplexingly, the researchers have been working with Kuka robots and programming some reactions to pain-inducing scenarios into robots. This disregards the entire premise of why robots would be employed. Do we not install robots in factories because unlike humans they cannot get tired and they cannot feel pain? Regardless, the researchers are making a case for installing an "artificial robot nervous system" into robots. 

"Pain is a system that protects us. When we evade from a source of pain, it helps us not get hurt," said Johannes Kuehn, one of the engineers attached to the research. They have shown the research to panels of experts at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) that is taking place in Stockholm, Sweden. 

The other engineer working alongside Keuhn is Professor Sami Haddadin. He said, "A robot needs to be able to detect and classify unforeseen physical states and disturbances, rate the potential damage they may cause to it, and initiate appropriate countermeasures, i.e, reflexes."

Reportedly, the researchers used a "nervous robot-tissue model" that was inspired by "human skin structure" that would be able to sense temperature and pressure. The engineers programmed the robot to have heat and pressure thresholds that if met, would then attempt to avoid whatever the engineers were throwing at it. The robot also sends out pain information for the engineers to peruse, when something infringed on its pressure thresholds. 

As the researchers talk it starts to make more sense. Essentially, they don't want the robot to feel pain but rather to have reflexes to something that threatens their hardware as if they were feeling pain. So if the robot senses that it is in a room that is on fire and it has the ability to move out of the room instead of getting 'hurt', then it should be able to do that. However, perhaps robot helpers around the house should be given the ability to feel some sorts of 'pain' but industrial robots should have to tough it out. Yes? Maybe? No? 

Stanford University engineers have also been experimenting with technology that would allow a robot to avoid a collision with something else. This particular avoidance system was programmed five years ago but will be invaluable research for years to come due to the increase of robot workers replacing factory workers in the world today: 

 

Source: IEEE Spectrum

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