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Robotic teddy bear befriends sick kids

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Posted at 10:22 AM, Apr 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-01 10:22:26-04

Cambridge, Mass.-  For kids staying in the hospital for an extended period of time and in a tremendous amount of pain, some love, positive interaction, and a teddy bear can go a long way.

Researchers have been working on touchable, huggable therapeutic robots for children in these situations. The MIT Media Lab is testing Huggable, a blue and green bear that was created to relieve pain and anxiety for children hospitalized for long periods of time such as in the ICU or for cancer treatment.

The Huggable is a fun and interactive robot being developed at the MIT Media Lab, and it is now beginning to be tested by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal’s MIT group in hospitals. The pilot study was filmed at Boston Children’s Hospital where sick children interacted with the Huggable in their rooms.

The children are able to shake Huggable’s paw, tell him jokes, and even play I Spy with him. The bear is able to recognize those around him by name, answer questions the patients ask him, and play games.

According to Personal Robotics Group, Dr. Breazeal’s team conducts research to advance socially intelligent robots that are able to interact with humans and promote social and intellectual benefits. Thus, the Huggable looks like the average teddy bear, but he is highly intelligent and acts as a companion to the children.

The Personal Robotics Group’s Huggable has a full body sensitive skin that has 1500 sensors, video cameras in the eyes, microphones in the ears, quiet back-drivable actuators, an inertial measurement unit, a speaker, and an embedded PC with 802.11g wireless networking.

Yet, the teddy bear does not seem robotic, but rather naturally socially interactive. The actuators were created to be silent so that as Huggable moves, the gears go unheard. There is a soft silicone-based skin that covers the bear to give it a more lifelike feel, and hide the technology underneath.

Although the research team cannot yet say if the Huggable makes the children’s lives any easier, they do know that Huggable is able to distract the children away from their pain at least for a while so they can enjoy a moment to just be a kid.

-Meghan Puryear