As part of a pilot study at Boston Children’s Hospital, young patients have a cuddly companion keeping them company and making extended hospital stays less worrisome.
Meet Huggable: a blue and green teddy bear designed by the MIT Media Lab for healthcare, education and social communication purposes. Kids can interact with the bear by shaking his paw, telling him jokes and even playing games of I Spy, Wired reported. On a deeper level, the robot is trying to connect with the kids as a friend or teammate.
“Huggable’s purpose of existence is to interact on an emotional level with children,” said Luke Plummer, a robotics engineer with Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab, in a video for the Wired story.
While it may seem like just an advanced Teddy Ruxpin-esque robot, the MIT developers want Huggable to appear so lifelike that the technology controlling it goes unnoticed. In fact, they say holding a Huggable should feel more like you’re holding a puppy than a doll — even when that doll addresses each person in the room by name.
According to the MIT Media Lab site, Huggable’s “skin” is embedded with 1,500 sensors. It has a Smartphone phone for eyes, microphones for ears, a speaker for its mouth and a PC underneath its plush exterior, which is controlled wirelessly by a nearby laptop. The Huggable could even be operated remotely via website by a family member who lives far from the child.
The researchers haven’t yet determined whether Huggable guarantees an easier hospital stay for children, and they acknowledge that Huggable isn’t a substitute for having people present in the room. But what the designers hope is that the bear will become a “team member” for the patients and their families by enhancing their social interactions with one another while providing a therapeutic experience.
Currently, Huggable is being used for research purposes only and is not available as a commercial product.
Watch Wired’s video about the Huggable below:
Top screenshot courtesy of Wired’s YouTube channel