There may no longer be any need for breast cancer patients to volunteer their services to medical students. Japanese researchers have developed a robotic glove that can stimulate the sensation of touching someone’s breast. The researchers aspire to have the device serve as a training tool for medical students to gain experience in palpating the breast when looking for lumps and other examinations that require scrutinizing body parts by touch.
The device is attached to the hands and can simulate the softness of different materials by producing realistic tactile sensations to the individual’s fingertip by haptic feedback. The researchers from the Gifu University of Japan call their invention “a multi-fingered haptic interface robot”.
Medical students require examination practice in locating breast lumps and getting volunteers who are suffering from cancer can be very difficult. The haptic device is able to provide all students with the practice as it replicates different sizes of lumps in different places of the organ.
Silicone breast model and fingertip haptic device used in one experiment.
The researchers expressed that developing the device to stimulate touch and softness has proved a big challenge as the fingertips are very sensitive and produces nuanced sensations that are hard to replicate.
The invention was showcased at the IEEE Internationl Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) held in Hong Kong.
The IEEE website explains the device’s mechanism: “To simulate softness, the sheet of gel is stretched by two tiny rollers with a gap between them, so that a strip of gel is suspended in the air. Your finger rests on this strip. By using a motor and a set of gears to move the rollers, the tension on the strip of gel can be increased or decreased. Increasing the tension (pulling the strip tighter) makes it feel harder under your finger, while decreasing the tension (letting the strip get looser) makes it feel softer.”
Fingertip haptic mechanism used to simulate softness.
This may have been a “touchy” subject before as it regards breast cancer patients but at least now we all know that medical students will still get the “hands on” experience necessary.