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Abel is an artificial 12-year-old boy. Wait, what?

Yup, that’s right. Designed by bioengineers at Pisa university and Gustav Hoegen (a specialist in realistic animatronics), Abel is built with features representative of those of a 12-year-old, in order to raise his relational potential towards people struggling with various disorders. These disorders range from neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s to social anxiety disorders.

Details on Abel

Specifically, Abel has a combination of over 20 piezoelectric motors stored under his skin, thereby allowing him to create a diverse array of facial expressions. Moreover, Abel can assess human emotions by considering factors such as heartbeat frequency and thermal changes on skin. This is done so using external sensors, including cameras, binaural microphones, so on and so forth.

Next steps

Soon, the team hopes to begin integrating the sensors into Abel, to make him seem more realistic and consequently strengthen that human-to-human connection he delivers.

Eventually, they wish to replace the computer sensor with organoids - a collection of stem cells that self-assemble to mimic the function of a tiny human organ. Many laboratories are experimenting with this prospect, and using them with Abel would not only give them a body to interact with but also bolster the emotional intelligence of the robot.

What are some opinions?

Enzo Scilingo is a part of the research team, and truly believes in the power of collaborative robots otherwise known as ‘cobots’. Although there are ethical issues that need to be considered, he states that these can be transcended upon if we collectively see them as partners in everyday life. With Abel in particular, he will be a great tool to help people with difficulties, leading to brighter days and wider smiles.


Written by Amanda Y

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