Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics states that “a robot may not injure a human being.” But it’s hard for robots to comply to such stringent laws when the threshold of pain and injury varies so much from person-to-person. Borut Povše from the University of Ljubljana is conducting a research experiment which could help robots better understand their limits.
Povše persuaded six of his male colleagues to submit themselves to a robot specifically programmed to inflict pain. The team borrowed a small production-line robot made by Epson, usually designed to assemble coffee vending machines, and adapted it into a punching robot which was used to strike the arms of the volunteers. Each volunteer was struck 18 times at different impact levels and with different tool attachments. They were then asked to describe the pain as painless, engendered mild, moderate, horrible or unbearable. An artificial human arm will be used in future experiments. Determining the pain of human-robot interactions can help set the limits of the force robots are allowed to use when dealing with our fleshy bodies.