PhD scholarship top-up for Leila Mouzehkesh Pirborj: The role of touch on pain-empathy relations in human-robot interaction

Project Participants

Status: Ongoing


Globally, there is a rapidly growing market for socially assisted robots (SARs) – robots that possess social and human characteristics and aid in consumer interactions. In 2020, the market for SARs rose 12% to reach a turnover of $US6.7 billion, and growth in new consumer service robots rose by 16% to $US4.4 billion. In countries such as Japan, China, Korea, the US, Singapore and Europe, SARs can be found across a wide range of industries from healthcare, retail and entertainment and advertising services.

To increase the empathic qualities of robots, touch is a key component. This project will examine the emotional touch interactions between humans and robots to communicate the feeling of pain and explores empathic responses in human-robot interactions. It will develop a product (the Pain Bandage) for future research, commercial development and industry uptake. We will use the ‘Pepper robot’, designed by Aldebaran Robotics and introduced to the market in 2015, which is a well-known service robot with a human upper body and 10.1″ touch screen display mounted on its chest. This mobile-based robot can move hands, head, and torso to replicate high-quality interactions expected by humans.

Through the creation of a patented Pain Bandage and its future development and commercialisation, this project will produce the underpinning science and technology that will potentially meet the need of the global healthcare market to not only improve patient experiences and health outcomes but also relieve pressure from an already burdened health workforce.

Project Objective

  • To evaluate and understand the user’s empathy toward expression of pain by robots.
  • To recognise the most conducive channel(s) (verbal, verbal and screen touch, verbal and body touch) to excite empathic responses towards robots.
  • To evaluate the users’ empathy (emotional touch) toward expressions of pain in different parts of the Pepper robot body (for example hand and head), using the Pain Bandage (wireless tactile sensors inserted in the bandage), to measure the effect of bandage placement.
  • To develop a novel sensory-indicator device (the Pain Bandage) for communicating pain and emotional touch in human-robot interactions.

Integrity, Excellence,
Teamwork and Authenticity