A Robot’s Touch Helps Heal Pain


The coronavirus pandemic leaves many missing the warmth of human embrace, Israeli scientists say robots can whir into the breach, even helping sufferers through pain when there’s nobody to hold their hand.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev intentionally hurt volunteers by heating their skin to high temperatures. Some of the 83 volunteers were introduced to PARO, a Japanese-produced social robot that looks like a furry white seal. The results showed that the companionship and touch of the cuddly robot eased their pain.

This research, just published in the journal Scientific Reports, represents “an early step in the direction of robotized pain relief,” said Shelly Levy-Tzedek, head of Ben Gurion’s Cognition, Aging and Rehabilitation Laboratory, adding that it adds to a small body of research that she said could make companion-robots commonplace in hospitals and for the elderly.

“Our research suggests that social robots can help to alleviate some of the loneliness and other feelings people have from lacking social touch and human interaction,” she said, especially when pandemic restrictions are in place. “Even a short interaction with a robot can lead to reduction in pain, and this opens up possibilities for robots to deal with situations of pain, whether it’s having blood drawn or after an operation.”

The Times of Israel