TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Few people like sitting in the dentist's chair, but at least Japanese students aiming to fix people's smiles now have a new robot to practice on before they are let loose on real patients.
In what was billed as the world's first large-scale practical use of a dental robot, 88 students at Japan's Showa University took exams using the patient robot, which reacts to procedures that would cause pain in a human subject.
"Medical skill and ability is first built upon failures. One's skills only improve once they have failed once," said vice director of Showa University Dental Hospital Koutaro Maki.
"Therefore, we figured that a robot is the only way that would allow students to learn from their failures without inconveniencing patients."
The robot, which survived all the exams intact, was developed at the university's Department of Orthodontics and stands 157 cm (5ft 1in) high.
It is the third generation of its kind, and was developed to allow students to practice on a life-like patient that would react without having to actually work on a real human being.
Not only does the robot automatically react to motions that would cause a human pain, but instructors can also use a separate touch-panel controller to inject unpredictable events such as sneezing, coughing or moving away from the instruments.
According to students such as 26-year-old Shugo Haga, this provides a much better replica of human reactions than other robots.
"This robot is quite different from those up to this point in that its movements are very close to that of a real patient. One actually feels the difficulty of working on it as a patient, as it has a very lifelike presence to it." Haga explained.
The robot also secretes artificial saliva to simulate the conditions of the human mouth, and even gets tired and attempts to close its mouth if the student takes too long.
While Showa University has still been using humans for its final clinical exams, the dental hospital hopes to let their new patient robot take over the task of being poked, drilled and prodded to train the next generation of smile makers.
Editing by Alex Richardson