Why these scientists are teaching robots to give good hugs

Five years ago, my artist/engineer pal Kal Spelletich drew at crowd at an Institute for the Future conference by demonstrating his "Huggerer," a pneumatic robot that delivers free hugs. Now robot hugs are the subject of new scientific research! At a recent human-robot interaction conference, researchers from Stuttgart, Germany's Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems presented their efforts to explore "how robots can be more effectively designed and taught to give the kinds of hugs that humans will love." From Evan Ackerman's fascinating interview with lead researcher Alexis Block in IEEE Spectrum:

IEEE Spectrum: Why is research on robot hugs important?

Alexis Block: Robot hugs are important because people love to give and receive hugs. Virginia Satir, a well-known family therapist, was famous for saying, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Sometimes, we are put in new or uncomfortable situations where we might not be near our loved ones, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need the support and calming effects that a hug provides. Research on robot hugs is important so we can one day use technology to provide the emotional support and health benefits of hugs to many people, wherever or whenever they need it.

What makes a good hug?

The results from our experiment suggest that to make a good hug whoever/whatever you hug should be compliant, warm, squeeze you, and release you immediately when you indicate you’re ready for the hug to end.

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Watch a virtual reality Haptx glove in action

This Ready Player One fan, who wasn't an admirer of virtual reality, test drives the Seattle-based Haptx haptic glove. The experience converts him into a VR "believer." The Haptx glove isn't yet on the market, but according to their press release, will be available to "select customers" this year. Read the rest

Imogen Heap's musical gloves

Sean sends us, "a video interview with Imogen Heap describing her homemade electronic interface gloves that control her music interface software by the movement and positions of her hands." Heap is kickstarting an open source hardware version of the gloves. Read the rest

Haptography: recording the feel of things

[Video Link] University of Pennsylvania's Katherine Kuchenbecker is developing technology to record what things feel like when you touch them.

When you want to learn about an object through touch, not only will you place your hand on it, its also likely that you will move your hand along its surface to understand the object’s texture and form.

With this in mind Kuchenbecker developed a pen-like tool with various sensors inside. When the tool is moved over a particular object or material these sensors collect data about that movement. A force sensor records how hard you are pushing the tool; a motion-tracking sensor tells exactly where you’ve moved it; a vibration sensor and accelerometer detects the shaking back and forth of the tool.

Haptography: A digital future with feeling Read the rest