Aaaahhhh how cute, a harmless, innocent, non-robotic teddy bear. I’m sure its not secretly collecting “data” on my sick child. Right? Wrong.
Once voted one of Wired’s 50 Best robots ever, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab’s Huggable therapeutic bear robot made a rare public appearance at the Robo Business 2007 conference and expo this week.
Built on an MSR service, the Web interface shows what Huggable sees through its camera eyes, its relative body position, and even if it’s being moved, and the interface allows the user to control the robot’s still-limited interaction. Huggable cannot get up and walk around, but it is, according to Stiehl, a very complex robot, featuring full-body sensor skin, sensors, and tensiometers in its legs and feet, speakers and a microphone in its head, a camera in each eye (one color and one black and white), and motors in the neck so it can turn its head. Future versions will add motors to the eyebrows, ears, shoulders, and the neck. The latter should give Huggable a full eight degrees of head movement, so it can tilt its head to the side.
The current robot showed off some pretty impressive functionality during the demonstration. Stiehl and his team used the Web-based controls to have the robot look at each researcher sitting in front of it, turning the robot’s head and then labeling the position with each researcher’s name. Now Stiehl and his team could have the robot quickly look from one researcher by simply selecting the position label.
Unlike most research robots, Huggable may have a life outside the lab. Stiehl told me that while the goal of this current, high-powered Huggable is to explore the larger questions, like how a robot can operate in a hospital environment, interact with children and gather data, there are numerous Huggable technologies that could be turned into standalone products and applications. One such product might be the “Squeeze Doll,” which could be used to help patients show where they’re experiencing pain by squeezing the corresponding area on a robot equipped with air bladder sensors. Likewise, Stiehl can foresee a lower-cost version of the Huggable eventually making it to market.