There currently exists a growing body of research indicating the diverse benefits that companion animals offer people. Studies have shown that animals are capable of lowering stress, reducing heart and respiratory rate, showing positive changes in hormonal levels, mood elevation, and increased social facilitation. Given these health and social benefits, animal assisted therapy is commonly used to benefit hospitalized children, the elderly, and other people in need. Unfortunately these animals are not always available to patients due to allergies, risk of disease, restricted visiting schedules, or other reasons.
To provide health and social benefits when therapy animals are not available, robot-assisted therapy applications have recently attracted the attention of robotics researchers.
The Huggable is a new kind of robotic pet surrogate for pet therapy applications in children’s hospitals and nursing homes where pets are not always available. Much research has explored the benefits of pets in lowering stress and elevating positive mood. We are designing a robotic teddy bear with full-body sensate skin and smooth, quiet voice coil actuators that is able to relate to people through touch. The Huggable features a series of temperature, electric field, and force sensors which it uses to sense the interactions that people have with it. This information is then processed for its affective content, such as, for example, whether the Huggable is being petted, tickled, or patted; the bear then responds appropriately. We recently demoed the Huggable at SIGGRAPH 2006 in Boston, and it was a recent winner of the 2006 Robots at Play Award. It is funded in part by a Microsoft iCampus student grant.
Project from the MIT Media Lab by Cynthia Breazeal, Walter Dan Stiehl, Jeff Lieberman, Matt Berlin, Jesse Gray, Kuk-Hyun Han (Samsung), Levi Lalla, Allan Maymin, Jonathan Salinas, Daniel Fuentes, Robert Toscano, Cheng Hau Tong, Aseem Kishore, Louis Basel and Roshni Cooper