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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Oxford study says just shake hands, don't kiss strangers

It is often observed that I do not like strangers to hug me! A recent study by Oxford University shows I'm not even close to alone. Many folks are uncomfortable hugging, or kissing, strangers too.

The Telegraph reports:

The biggest study ever conducted into physical contact suggests that most people harbour an underlying reticence at being touched by a stranger anywhere but on their hands.

In recent years, it has become fashionable to greet new acquaintances with a kiss on one, or even both cheeks. But the new research indicates that people are actually perturbed by such a high level of intimacy from a stranger.

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Hugging robot

It's very satisfying.