Meet HuggieBot, the robot designed to hug
There are days when all we need is a good hug, right? Hug the child, the parents, the partner, a great friend, a colleague. Sometimes, it doesn't even matter who the hug is from: what really matters is the feeling of comfort it causes. With exactly that in mind, scientists created the HuggieBot: the robot made to hug.
Studies have already attested to the benefits caused by hugging, especially in the therapeutic aspect of the gesture. That's the idea behind HuggieBot, the humanoid robot developed by Katherine J. Kuchenbecker and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany.
Robot that hugs can take on the role of escort for the elderly
In the context of therapeutic humanoid robots, especially related to elderly care, hugs are quite simple to replicate in machines compared to other complex movements like bathing someone or putting them to bed.
Kuchenbecker revealed that the HuggieBot has sensors on its arms to ensure it gives a friendly, comfortable hug and not a risky grip. Another sensor on the robot's back detects the human returning the hug. When someone raises their arms or leans against the robot's arms, it takes it as a hug – and responds.
The team knew that the main characteristics of the robot should be softness, a pleasant temperature and the size close to that of a human being. In addition to knowing when to hug, he can adjust to a person's height and posture the way a human would.
Comfortably wearing a gray hoodie and a long purple skirt, the robot has a flat face with a pleasant expression. HuggieBot's upper body is inflated and heated to make hugging more pleasant.
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To make HuggieBot's hugs even more comfortable and cozy, the scientists wrapped the robotic arms in foam and put socks on the robot's hands.
Hugs are all about physical and emotional warmth, and while bonding emotionally with a robot is more difficult, it's definitely not new. Think of children with their stuffed animals and security blankets. Or castaway Tom Hanks and Wilson, his volleyball best friend.
User can calculate the intensity of the hug he wants to win
We all know someone who hugs too hard or too long, or often, on the contrary, gives that “mixuruca” hug, quite unwillingly. What if you could train a robot to hug you exactly the way you want to be hugged?
If this hugging robot story becomes real, there are a lot more things to consider that would make robotic hugs even more enjoyable and human. As if you're crying, and the robot can pat you on the back by squeezing your body into his, offering extra comfort – the hardest part can be getting people to accept the idea and surrender to the arms of a machine. .
In Japan, robots are already doing their job in caring for the elderly. An asylum in Tokyo has 20 different robots handing out hugs to residents. Many of them are designed to play games and establish conversations with patients, as well as lead them through exercise routines.
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