Developed by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, the “Hugvie” is a brightly-colored pillow in an extremely generic shape of a person. Within the large cushion, there is a pocket that’s designed to house a smartphone or regular cell phone during a call. According to Ishiguro, the Hugvie uses a micro-controller and two vibrating discs to “translate” the emotions of the caller’s voice into physical form. The two vibrators act in conjunction to replicate a human heartbeat. The speed as well as the intensity of the heartbeat is completely dependent on the volume and mood of the caller.
The current iteration of the product is being targeted at seniors and children. For instance, a parent on an out-of-town business trip could speak to their child while the youngster was wrapped around the Hugvie. The elderly could use it when speaking to a distant family member or primary caregiver over the phone. Future iterations of the design may be specifically targeted to people in a long distance relationship.
When explaining a design that offers a higher level of interactivity, Ishiguro stated “We’d like to develop this into a robot with an internal frame. We could build in lots of vibrators and special sensors, so that when you hug it, the other person’s robot moves as well. So far, I don’t think there has been a really soft robot. If we make this one a bit more complex, we could create something that really feels like a person while you’re hugging it.”
The Hugvie costs approximately $60 and is currently on display at the Vstone Robot Center in Tokyo. Osaka University’s Professor Ishiguro is also responsible for the development of the Telenoid, a portable teleoperated android robot that simulates a physical presence for someone in another location. The built-in speakers within the Telenoid play the voice of the caller and the human-like face replicates the emotional state of the caller as the caller’s face is being watched through a webcam.