A new robot can help with the fear of injections during medical treatments

The wearable robot helps patients who are afraid of needles.
Brittney Grimes
A patient getting vaccinated.
A patient getting vaccinated.


A recent study in Japan has revealed that a hand-held soft robot can improve the experience of patients while undergoing medical treatments, such as injections and other unpleasant therapies or immunizations.

Inspired by vaccinations during Covid

The research was inspired in part by the numerous needles people had to endure while being vaccinated against Covid-19. Some people had an aversion to these needles, which led to less people getting vaccinated, reducing the rates. Although there have been numerous studies explaining patients’ pain and anxiety during treatment, there have been few solutions studied or discussed to help patients.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the analysis, researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan created a wearable soft robot that patients can use during injection treatments. The purpose of the robot is to help ease the pain and ward off the anxiety.

Less pain when wearing the robot

The participants in the study who wore the robot, while being subject to a moderate heat stimulus, experienced less pain in the test than those who did not wear the robot. The test proved that the pain and anxiety being felt could be reduced drastically by lessening the experience of pain through using the robot.

"Our results suggest that the use of wearable soft robots may reduce fear as well as alleviate the perception of pain during medical treatments, including vaccinations," said Fumihide Tanaka, professor at the University of Tsukuba and senior author of the study.

A new robot can help with the fear of injections during medical treatments
The robot researchers called Reliebo.

The robot, which is soft, and fur covered, is named Reliebo by the researchers and was created to attach to the wearer’s hand for anxiety and pain relief. It contained small airbags internally that could inflate in response to hand movement.

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Testing the robot

The research team tested the effectiveness of the wearable robot while being handled by participants under certain conditions, based on the clenching of the hand. The team would place painful thermal stimulus to the other arm that was not holding the robot.

The team also measured oxycontin and cortisol levels from the participants’ saliva samples, suggesting levels of stress hormones. The pain felt by the patients were given specific ratings and were also recorded using an assessment scale. The people in the study were given a survey test to assess their fear of injections before and after the experiment with the wearable robot was completed.

The results

The study was able to prove that holding the robot alleviated the experience for patients who were receiving injections. It also hypothesized that the feeling of well-being exhibited by human touch may have been activated through holding the robot during stressful situations. The study further investigated the reasoning behind touch and reduction in pain.

"It is well known that interpersonal touch can reduce pain and fear, and we believe that this effect can be achieved even with nonliving soft robots," Tanaka stated.

A new robot can help with the fear of injections during medical treatments
Participants fear of injection are reduced after the experiment.

In the future

The research team hopes to use this study to advance the robot for use during painful situations, such as getting medical shots or similar conditions. The team also wants to eventually build an augmented reality that can allow for an actual connection to be made with the participants to further distract and deflect them from pain.

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