Robots going to the dentist

By | April 1, 2010

To clarify the title, no, our robot friends have not suddenly developed bad teeth that need to be fixed. Nor am I aware of many models that actually have teeth, but that’s a different story.

The Showa University Department of Orthodonics, School of Dentistry, has collaborated with Tmsuk to develop Hanako, a humanoid robot that can be used by dental students as practice for the real thing. Unlike a lifeless dummy, however, Hanako offers certain challenges that must be overcome by any student wishing to make his living drilling into people’s mouths.

The robot can understand and follow the surgeon’s instructions, such as when to close or open its mouth, but much like a real person, it does not stand perfectly still while being operated on. At any moment, the robot can discharge saliva, shift, sneeze or gag, forcing the student to react to the situation as best as he or she can. These motions are not entirely random, as touch sensors in Hanako’s mouth enable it to detect and react to improper application of the dental instruments, such as applying too much pressure.

There have been practice-robots in the past, but this one comes with the complete package, including movements of its jaw, eyelids, tongue or neck, especially when simulating how a human would gag. This is possibly as realistic as this type of robot can get, so we might have a rare case where one can say the model has been perfected. Not that it’s anything ground breaking, but for anyone who has had to sit on a dentist’s chair, this extra step taken to prepare students will be greatly appreciated.

The video below (in Japanese) shows a student getting to work on Hanako, and demonstrates how the robot will jerk its head if it reacts negatively to the dentist’s actions.