In a move widely regarded as a bad idea, researchers are programming robots to feel pain

05/26/2016 - 17:04

Evan Ackerman

Let's hope Genuine People Personalities (GPP) doesn't come next...

One of the most useful things about robots is that they don’t feel pain. Because of this, we have no problem putting them to work in dangerous environments or having them perform tasks that range between slightly unpleasant and definitely fatal to a human. And yet, a pair of German researchers believes that, in some cases, feeling and reacting to pain might be a good capability for robots to have.


Ref: An Artificial Robot Nervous System To Teach Robots How To Feel Pain And Reflexively React To Potentially Damaging Contacts. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (1 March 2016) | DOI: 10.1109/LRA.2016.2536360


In this letter, we introduce the concept of an artificial Robot Nervous System (aRNS) as a novel way of unifying multimodal physical stimuli sensation with robot pain-reflex movements. We focus on the formalization of robot pain, based on insights from human pain research, as an interpretation of tactile sensation. Specifically, pain signals are used to adapt the equilibrium position, stiffness, and feedforward torque of a pain-based impedance controller. The schemes are experimentally validated with the KUKA LWR4+ for simulated and real physical collisions using the BioTac sensor.