By Susan Braden
Do you like having cheap dentistry work? So do patients all over the world, including those in Japan. One of the ways that Japan may gain increasingly cheap dental care is by giving its dentists-in-training access to a patient robot. At the dentistry hospital at Showa University, a humanoid female robot named Hanako now helps students practice certain techniques, and she even does it with a cheerful attitude.
Hanako was developed by Showa University, a large medical facility based in Japan. She has resin teeth, so that a student’s work on her mouth may be easily examined afterward. The developers have kept the specific price of constructing the robot confidential. Although Hanako herself will likely be fairly expensive, the additional quality training she provides for Japanese dentists may result in lower cost dentistry.
Hanako is extremely lifelike, possessing necessary qualities to simulate an actual patient. Besides the ability to move her eyes, eyelids, and tongue, Hanako is even able to discharge a fluid similar to saliva. She also can even simulate fatigue by slackening her “jaw muscles” as a real patient would. Hanako can express emotions such as displeasure at excessive drilling, and employs sensors to indicate times when a real patient would experience pain.
“Education in the dental and medical field is underdeveloped ... The key to cultivating this undeveloped land is a robot,” says Koutaro Maki, the director of the Showa University Dental Hospital. Maki also says that the robot can allow the students to make mistakes that they can learn from, without putting a patient in danger.
Shugo Haga, a student dentist-in-training, has this to say about Hanako: “This one isn’t easy to cope with, but she is close to being a patient.” Hanako may not be that cheap, but she, and future robots like her, may lead to cheaper dentistry for more people.