Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Huggable Robot

After a bad day, there’s nothing like a Hugvie

If you’re a fan of bizarre robots, you’ve got to be familiar with some of Hiroshi Ishiguro’s work. As the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan, Ishiguro’s gained a lot of fame through many of his pseudo-human creations.

The media took quite a fancy to his fellow Geminoid, a humanoid designed to be the robotist’s very own robotic twin. Particularly focused on the notion of creating robots that are as life-like as possible, some of his other robots such as the Actroid have even been regarded as eerily realistic. Speaking of eerily realistic, you may want to check out the Geminoid he recently modeled after Danish professor, Henrik Scharfe.

In light of his many creations, Ishiguro’s new development should come as no surprise. The fact that the Hugvie is another one of many huggable robots out there begs the question: why would anyone want a hug from a robot? Well, according to Ishiguro, these robots could give great comfort to elderly people living far away from family and loved ones. Furthermore, other scientists speculate that the use of technology like this could help in the prevention and treatment of neurological diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s. While it’s too soon to tell if that could really be the case, we do know that touch affects the brain in many ways.

You may have heard of psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments in the late 1950′s. While his experiments with young Rhesus monkeys are now outdated and even considered cruel,  the pioneering psychologist did manage to show that comforting physical contact promotes healthy cognitive development while isolation and touch deprivation leads to the contrary. Similarly, more recent studies have shown that positive physical contact lowers levels of stress producing hormones like Cortisol.

Ishiguro sees other applications for these soft, blob-like bots—for example, if your partner happens to be far way, you can hug the robot while talking to them over the phone. The voice on the phone gets converted into vibrations that the hugger can feel, while another vibrating device within the robot produces a constant heartbeat. This may seem like a strange thing to do but could  adding in this extra modality help bridge the distance between people? After all, many people feel that simply being able to see their loved one while hearing their voice via programmes like Skype makes them feel significantly closer to them.

If you’re interested in the relationships between man and machine check out a clip of the 2009 documentary Mechanical Love, which features some of Ishiguro’s insights on the concept of ¨Sonzai-Kan,¨or the feeling of human presence by means of the internet.

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