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’Bot Helps Docs by Acting Childish

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    The Pedia_Roid robot helps dentists train to treat children. (TMSUK)
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    The robot is about three-and-a-half feet tall and weighs about 50 pounds. (TMSUK)
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    A dental student checks the robot’s teeth. (TMSUK)
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    The robot can blink, make faces, and even “blush.” (TMSUK)
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    Kids can be wiggly patients. The robot can help dentists prepare for human patients. (TMSUK)
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Lying on a dentist’s table, a humanoid robot screams, rolls its eyes, and kicks its feet. But this is  no toy. It’s a complex automaton designed to mimic medical symptoms and classic children’s responses—while helping train the next generation of doctors and dentists.

Engineer Hiroki Takimoto helped develop the 50-pound robot. It’s named the Pedia_Roid. The ’bot is a collaboration between a Japanese robotics startup called tmsuk (lowercase t) and a nearby dental school. Pedia_Roid can simulate a five- to six-year-old child’s responses when receiving dental treatment. It even adapts to replicate a youngster’s medical condition.

“Be kind one to another, tenderhearted.” (Ephesians 4:32) It’s a straightforward directive. Yet sometimes, it’s hard to fulfill. Robots like Pedia_Roid can help people develop compassion and the skills to show love to each other in action.

A tablet programmed with varying medical conditions lets a user send signals to the robot’s joints. Air cylinders inside enable the ’bot to move its entire body, mouth, eyes, and tongue. The figure displays a range of physical reactions and facial expressions. Dentists-in-training can even draw fake blood from the robot’s hand.

Director of tmsuk’s engineering division, Yusuke Ishii, says Pedia_Roid helps fill an important gap in clinical dental training: the treatment of children.

“It is difficult to get experience in pediatric dentistry,” Ishii explains. “There are no opportunities to practice. In addition, there is the risk that children will move wildly . . . when their medical condition suddenly worsens.”

Human-like robotic reactions include wriggling legs, twisting arms, breathing changes, facial flushing, and pupil dilation. Further, the robot can mimic signs of serious medical emergencies such as convulsions and heart failure. The kid-bot allows trainees to gain experience they can use in similar critical situations, according to a tmsuk engineer.

The system can be used for training in various fields of pediatric medicine, including emergency care.

Moving forward, tmsuk forecasts that workers in other childcare industries could use Pedia_Roid to train for emergency situations. This could even include elementary school teachers and daycare providers.

Yoichi Takamoto is chairman of tmsuk. He calls the scientists and engineers at his company “pioneers.” He envisions “a future where humans and robots are co-existing.”

Does Takamoto’s vision sound realistic? What exciting inventions do you imagine the future holds during your lifetime?

Why? Robots can be valuable tools, especially when they give humans insight into treatments and compassion for those hurting or in need.