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Dental Practice Robot Unveiled in Japan

March 25, 2010

Robotics experts and doctors in Japan have unveiled a robotic humanoid that will help dentists and aspiring orthodontic professionals practice their trade, according to a Thursday AFP article.

The robot, designed to represent a female patient and named Hanako, is equipped with a full set of hard plastic teeth and can provide detailed interaction with the practicing dentist.

It can create saliva and blood, simulate jaw fatigue, and even notify the practicing dentist if an action would have caused pain in a real patient or if a mistake is made.

Hanako was a collaboration effort, created by medical experts at Showa University in Tokyo, Waseda University mechanical engineering professor Atsuo Takanishi, and robotic development firm Tmusk, Co., which has previously been behind such projects as security robots and mechanical babysitters. It is reportedly the first robot to be used to evaluate students’ dental skills.

“We still have a system where the ‘apprentices’ watch doctors with higher skills, borrow from them and copy them… This is not scientific,” Koutaro Maki of the Showa University Dental Hospital told AFP reporter Miwa Suzuki on March 25.

“Education in the medical and dental fields is underdeveloped,” Maki, the medical facility’s vice director, added. “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.”

Earlier this month, members of the robotics and behavioral sciences laboratory of Tokyo’s University of Tsukuba unveiled a robot designed to simulate the behavior of a real human child and help Japanese parents learn how to care for infants.

That bionic baby, known as Yotaro, featured a touch-sensitive face, artificial tear ducts, and a built in speaker that would allow it to giggle or cry out. It could also change facial expressions, sleep, sneeze, wiggle its arms and legs, and run a fever to simulate illness.

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