Japan unveils willing dental patient -- a robot

March 25, 2010 by Miwa Suzuki
A dentist from the Showa University Dentistry School demonstrates treating a robot named Hanako Showa in Tokyo. Doctors and robotics researchers have unveiled a robot that happily goes under the drill for orthodontics students and can also express pain, roll her eyes and even drool like a real patient.

Few people would want to be guinea pigs for aspiring dentists but Japan has found an always-willing patient -- a robot.

Doctors and robotics researchers on Thursday unveiled a humanoid that happily goes under the drill for orthodontics students and can also express pain, roll her eyes and even drool like a real patient.

"Hello," female-looking "Hanako" said cheerfully as an aspiring dentist closed in during a presentation in Tokyo. "Please take care of me."

But the robo-patient's mood can quickly take a real-life turn for the worse if the grinding and drilling get too much or the wrong spot is hit.

"It hurts," said Hanako, dangerously moving her plastic head while a dental student was grinding her resin teeth, which are designed to be taken out and examined later to assess the student's skill.

In the demonstration, under the watchful gaze of an instructor, the dental student reacted quickly, deactivating and moving the sharp-pointed grinding tool to avoid damaging Hanoko's teeth or gums.

"Please raise your left hand when it hurts because it's dangerous to move your mouth," the student told the machine lying in the dentist's chair.

To add to the realism, Hanako can also move her eyes and eyelids, jaw and tongue. She even discharges a saliva-like liquid and slowly slackens her jaw muscles to simulate the gradual "fatigue" of a real patient.

Hanako was developed by the medical Showa University and a research team led by humanoid pioneer Atsuo Takanishi, a professor at Waseda University, both Tokyo-based, as well as maker tmsuk based in southern Japan.

The price tag is confidential, the inventors said.

Japan already has humanoid robots for a variety of tasks, from receptionists to photo models, but the field of patient robots is still small.

Hanako is the world's first that has been used to evaluate the skills of on a large scale, according to Showa University. This month 88 of its students trained and took clinical exams using her.

Koutaro Maki, vice director of the Showa University Dental Hospital, told a press conference that the use of the humanoid meant a vast improvement from the traditional method to teach and train young dentists.

"We still have a system where the 'apprentices' watch doctors with higher skills, borrow from them and copy them... This is not scientific," he said.

"Education in the medical and dental fields is underdeveloped. I wouldn't say it's the Galapagos islands, but it is undoubtedly a final frontier. The key to cultivating this undeveloped land is a robot."

The great thing about using robots, Maki said, is that it "allows students to make many mistakes" from which they can learn.

Shugo Haga, a 26-year-old dentist-in-training, said he had previously used a mannequin's head but said it felt like using a mere "object."

Sitting next to Hanako, he added: "This one isn't easy to cope with, but she is close to being a patient."

Explore further: Games technology to help in future dental training

Related Stories

Musical robots perform duets (w/ Video)

November 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A flute playing robot unveiled by Waseda University last year has been joined by a robot saxophonist in a Classical music duet. The aim of the project was to design robots that could respond to each other's ...

From human bite to robot jaws

June 30, 2009

The UK spends around £2.5 billion each year on dental materials to replace or strengthen teeth. The Chewing Robot is a new biologically inspired way to test dental materials and it will be shown to the public for the first ...

Recommended for you

Microsoft aims at Apple with high-end PCs, 3D software

October 26, 2016

Microsoft launched a new consumer offensive Wednesday, unveiling a high-end computer that challenges the Apple iMac along with an updated Windows operating system that showcases three-dimensional content and "mixed reality."

Making it easier to collaborate on code

October 26, 2016

Git is an open-source system with a polarizing reputation among programmers. It's a powerful tool to help developers track changes to code, but many view it as prohibitively difficult to use.

Dutch unveil giant vacuum to clean outside air

October 25, 2016

Dutch inventors Tuesday unveiled what they called the world's first giant outside air vacuum cleaner—a large purifying system intended to filter out toxic tiny particles from the atmosphere surrounding the machine.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
just hope them dentist dont realise the robot's full potential

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.