Japanese researchers create a soft robot to assist those who are needle-phobic

As most of us never leave home without our cellphones, robots may soon replace humans as our go-to companions.

It appears to be the case based on recent studies conducted by Japanese researchers who developed a hand-held soft robot that can improve patients’ experiences during potentially unpleasant medical procedures, such injections.

During the campaign to encourage immunisation against COVID-19, public health experts realised that some people simply fear needles, which contributed to lower vaccination rates. Despite extensive research into the problems of patient anxiety and suffering during medical operations, there is still a need to test and implement solutions to benefit patients.

According to a study that was recently published in Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have developed a wearable soft robot that patients can use during treatments in an effort to reduce their agony. In tests including mild heat stimuli, study participants who wore the robot experienced less pain than those who did not. Our findings “imply that the use of wearable soft robots may minimise fear as well as alleviate the impression of pain during medical treatments, including vaccines,” says senior author Professor Fumihide Tanaka.The researchers gave the soft, fuzzy robot, Reliebo, microscopic airbags that could inflate in reaction to the participant’s hand movements. It was designed to be fastened to the user’s hand. While the other arm, which wasn’t being used to hold the robot, was being painfully heated, the participant’s hand was clutched as the researchers examined its usefulness in various settings. The researchers also determined the levels of oxytocin and cortisol, which are indicators for stress, in the patients’ saliva samples. Prior to and after the studies, the patients’ psychological well-being and fear of injections were evaluated by a survey test, and subjective pain ratings were recorded using an assessment scale.Regardless of the experimental arrangement, the researchers found that patients felt better while they were holding the robot. They proposed that the robot might also have elicited the positive emotions that human contact can bring about. It is well known that human contact can reduce sensations of pain and terror, and according to Professor Tanaka, “we think that this effect can be produced even with nonliving soft robots.” In circumstances like pandemics, where it is impractical to have direct human contact, this could be useful. Future versions of the robot may use augmented reality (AR) technology or perhaps a controlled gaze to distract patients from their discomfort or engage them in diverse contexts.

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