Huggable, a robotic companion for therapeutic applications, is the result of an MIT project that seeks to take advantage of our love for animals. Research indicates that animal companionship benefits people; they can lower our stress, reduce heart rate and respiratory rate, elevate mood and facilitate greater socialization with other people.
The MIT team has created a huggable robotic bear based on Gund toy bears that can interact with patients and provide quantitative information to care givers.
The Huggable robotic therapeutic companion makes use of a variety of cutting-edge technologies:
- The full-body sensate skin consists of three different types of sensors - electric field, temperature and force - that cover the entire surface of the robot. (The sensor-skin lies under a silicone skin and plush fur fabric for greater comfort.) This may be an improvement over earlier efforts to give robots pressure-sensitive skin or electroluminescent thin film sensors.
- An inertial measurement unit, cameras embedded in the eyes and microphones in the ears.
- Voice coil actuators with position sensing give the Huggable silent, compliant and backlash-free movement in the neck, shoulders and face.
- An embedded PC with wireless communication capabilities implements the robots behaviors and provides care givers with effective patient monitoring and efficient data collection.
Researchers are determined to meld these technologies into a coherent whole that serves patient needs:
Science fiction fans have been looking forward to these developments for generations. In his 1969 story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" (the basis for Steven Spielberg's "A.I."), writer Brian Aldiss imagines Teddy, a perfect robotic companion for a young boy. And a mother.
An earlier (and somewhat more sinister) vision of robotic teddy bears is provided in "Always Do What Teddy Says," a 1965 short story by Harry Harrison. Also, physicians have been using less touchy-feely robot stand-ins for rounding; read InTouch Companion: Medical Rounding Robot. Read more about MIT's Huggable Robotic Companion.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)