Huggable Robots Support Users’ Emotional Needs
Experiences of social isolation are now regarded as a normal facet of modern life – nearly half of all people in the US report sometimes or always feeling alone (Cigna, 2018). In response, tech companies are rebranding robots as companions to support users’ emotional needs.
Japanese company Groove X believes that artificially intelligent beings can evoke an authentic emotional experience of friendship and intimacy in the owner that is almost equal to close human to human relationships.
The company’s latest project is Lovot – a large-eyed creature that rolls on three wheels and is covered in soft, washable padding. The robot has a round camera perched on top of its head that scans its surroundings to identify its owner and give the impression of recognition.
Lovot uses non-verbal sounds and emotional gestures to communicate, enabling it to appeal to people of different languages and cultures. Its eyes are also used to communicate, with each featuring a six-layered display to create a lifelike appearance of depth. The body is also fitted with sensors that trigger reactions when touched for realistic physical interactions.
The cuddly outer body encourages ‘skinship’ – a term used to describe the importance of touch to achieve bonding between mother and child. Users are encouraged to pet and hug Lovot to spur emotions of attachment and companionship, which Groove X believes can enrich the user’s life.
Hugs have proven health benefits – they release oxytocin, a bonding hormone that improves mood and lowers blood pressure (U.S. News, 2016). Therefore, robots with soft-skinned bodies can encourage greater empathy and support the invisible emotional needs of the humans interacting with them.
For more on how robots are adopting human-like features to help rebrand them as carers, friends and teachers, see our latest Macro Trend The Kinship Economy: Crafting Modern Connections.
For more friendly gadgets from this year's Consumer Electronics Show, see our event coverage, publishing January 22.