HuggieBot, the Huggable Robot

HuggieBot is a new robot that is designed to hug people. The researchers at the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, have been diligently working on how to teach robots to give good hugs to people, and they feel that they have succeeded with HuggieBot 3.0.

The 11 HuggieBot commandments

HuggieBot follows 11 rules:

  1. A hugging robot shall be soft. HuggieBot has lots of air-filled padding, plus fleece coverings that keep people from feeling any metal.
  2. A hugging robot shall be warm. HuggieBot has heating pads on its chest to provide warmth.
  3. A hugging robot shall be the same size as a human adult. This is not true of all humanoid robots.
  4. A hugging robot shall invite the user for a hug but wait for the user to begin walking toward it before closing its arms. The point here is “to ensure a consensual and synchronous hugging experience.”
  5. A hugging robot shall autonomously adapt its embrace to the size and position of the human’s body.
  6. A hugging robot shall let the human go when they show a desire to leave the hug.
  7. A hugging robot shall adapt its arm positions to suit the human’s size.
  8. A hugging robot shall recognize human gestures.
  9. A hugging robot shall respond to human gestures during the hug.
  10. A hugging robot shall not precisely mirror human gestures. Instead, the hugging robot shall vary its gestures somewhat.
  11. A hugging robot shall occasionally provide extra gestures during a hug. This refers to actions like patting the human’s back.

What’s the point?

Automation is designed to take over human tasks that are dirty, dangerous, and dull. That’s not how most of us feel about hugging people.

In this case, it’s more about the process than the outcome. The process of getting human reactions to the robot’s hugs and producing multiple iterations of the hugging robot taught something about machine learning that researchers haven’t been able to gain from teaching robots how to sort produce.

However, the researchers intend to test robotic hugging to see whether it can benefit people. They plan to use data like blood pressure to examine the effects of hugging a robot compared with self-soothing and human interactions.

If hugging a robot is calming in the same way that hugging a human is, HuggieBot could have medical use in its future. The premise is that, rather than replacing humans in a task, HuggieBot could stand in for humans when they are not available — or when asking for a hug seems too weird.

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