Key scientific focus

This UK EPSRC funded project will investigate how human participants innovate haptic exploration behaviours to detect abnormalities in a soft tissue given palpation force constraints. We focus on the application of training medical students to perform physical examinations on patients under constraints imposed by pain expressions conditioned by different gender and culture backgrounds.


The talk by PI, Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara in IROS 2020 RoPat workshop

Robo Patient project

Team of investigators

robopatient team


Often primary examination of a patient by a General Practitioner (GP) involves physical examination to estimate the condition of internal organs in the abdomen. Facial expressions during palpation are often used as feedback to test a range of medical hypotheses for diagnosis. This leaves room for possible misinterpretations when the GP finds it difficult to establish a stable understanding about the patient’s background. This is a critical medical interaction challenge in UK where there is diverse gender and culture interactions in both GPs and patients.

Given the task of estimating the most likely value of a variable like the position of a hard formation in a soft tissue; humans (including examining doctors) use various internal and external control action such as variation of finger stiffness, shape and orientation of fingers, variation of indentation, and position and velocity control of fingers. We call this behavioural lensing of haptic information. A deeper understanding of how behavioural lensing happens under constraints is particularly important to improve the quality of training of physicians to develop robust physical examination methods on patients. In the case of examining a patient, behavioural constraints are imposed by pain expressions that can render diverse interpretations depending on the culture and gender context of the interaction between the physician and the patient.

Robustness of medical examination can be improved by introducing new technology assisted tools during medical education. Clinical sessions in medical training involve demonstrations from an experienced GP trainer on real patients. However, it is difficult to provide a consistent range of examples across different student groups because the lesson depends on the kind of patients available in the ward. On the other hand, patients resent repeated examination by students.

Related publications

Please see section on Haptic Exploration and Multipurpose Soft Sensors

Media and workshops