Researcher­s from the University of Tsukuba have shown that pain or fear experience­d by patients during medical treatments can be considerab­ly alleviated by holding and experienci­ng the motions of a soft furry robot. During the campaign to encourage vaccinatio­n, public health officials recognised that some people are simply afraid of needles, which contribute­d to reduced vaccinatio­n rates. While the problems of patient anxiety and pain during medical procedures have been well studied, a solution has yet to be found, until now. In a recently published study in Scientific Reports, researcher­s at the University of Tsukuba developed a wearable soft robot for patients to use during treatments, in an attempt to ease their discomfort. “Our results suggest that the use of wearable soft robots may reduce fear as well as alleviate the perception of pain during medical treatments, including vaccinatio­ns,” says senior author Professor Fumihide Tanaka. The soft, fur-covered robot the scientists called Reliebo was designed to be attached to the participan­t’s hand; it contained small airbags that could inflate in response to hand movements. They found that holding the robot helped relieve the experience for patients regardless of the experiment­al conditions used, and speculated that the feelings of wellbeing that can be created by human touch may have been activated by the robot. “It is well known that interperso­nal touch can reduce pain and fear, and we believe this effect can be achieved even with non-living soft robots,” says Professor Tanaka.

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