This Robot Just Wants a Hug

first_imgEditor’s note: This article was updated on June 13 with comment from Block.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Evan Rachel Wood Just As Disturbed by Humanoid Sophia As Everyone ElseMIT’s Thread-Like Robot Slides Through Blood Vessels In the Brain I love hugs. Like, really love them. I’d choose a warm embrace over a cream cheese-smeared bagel, an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt binge, or a sale on scented candles.So you can bet I’m excited about the prospect of a humanoid robot programmed to hug people.HuggieBot—a modified Willow Garage PR2 robot—is the first step toward an IRL Baymax: As tall as an average human, it is made with layers of foam, polyester, and other materials for extra-soft comfort.(And, as an added bonus, it won’t deflate when the battery runs low.)“We’re interested in enabling robots to hug because of how common hugs are in daily life and because of their numerous health benefits,” according to lead researcher Alexis Block, a Ph.D. student in the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.Studies suggest that hugs—whether between family, friends, or significant others—can ease stress, lower blood pressure, and make us feel supported, all of which helps stave off infection.“When my advisor and I were discussing several potential topics for my masters thesis, we realized both of our families lived far away,” Block told Geek in an email. “We thought about how nice it would be to get a hug from our moms on difficult or stressful days. This idea became HuggieBot.” Earlier this year, Block presented her own findings, based on a study in which HuggieBot gave 30 participants 12 different mechanical hugs.The experiment, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, featured the cyborg raising its arms expectantly and asking, “Can I have a hug, please?”Some folks were wary of embracing the 450-pound computer, while others seemed excited for the novel opportunity.“When HuggieBot asks a person for a hug, some people answer out loud. Others just hold on to the robot for a really long time,” Block explained. “We also found that taking part in our formal user study (in which people hugged the robot 12 times) significantly improved the participants’ general impressions about robots.” No one was crushed to death or ran away screaming, NBC News MACH reported; some participants told researchers that HuggieBot was “nicer to hug” than they anticipated.“The study participants gave us lots of helpful feedback that will enable us to create a robot that gives even better hugs,” according to Block. “We are now in the process of developing HuggieBot 2.0, which will be more ergonomic and responsive to its hugging partner. We plan to compare the psychological and physiological effects of hugging this new robot with the effects of hugging other people. And finally we hope to be able to allow people to send each other customized hugs through HuggieBot 2.0 and see how these remote robot-mediated interactions affect personal relationships.Researchers are working on a second-generation machine—one that measures how much emotional support its hugs provide. HuggieBot 2.0 will be more ergonomic and responsive to its hugging partner.“We plan to compare the psychological and physiological effects of hugging this new robot with the effects of hugging other people,” Block said. “And finally, we hope to be able to allow people to send each other customized hugs through HuggieBot 2.0 and see how these remote robot-mediated interactions affect personal relationships.”She has no intention, though, of replacing human embraces (because who would want to?). She simply wants to supplement them.“We’re advocating for this technology to be used as a complement to other people,” Block explained, as reported by NBC News, “in situations where it is difficult or uncomfortable to get the support a person needs or wants from another human”—like a college campus or senior living facility. Stay on targetlast_img read more

Scientists Recreate Dino DNA From Modern Ancestors

first_img We still can’t visit a real-life Jurassic Park (nor would most people probably want to). But scientists at the University of Kent have discovered the next best thing.By comparing the genomes of different species, the team was able to determine how the chromosomes of some popular dinosaurs—like the Velociraptor or Tyrannosaurus—might have looked through a microscope.Analysts used biotechnology to analyze data from a Carolina anole lizard, chicken, mallard, zebra finch, and grey short-tailed opossum, each boasting “robust” chromosome-level assembled genomes.(Those generated from alligators and turtles were too fragmented for consideration, while the turkey, budgerigar, and ostrich were ultimately excluded due to an increased possibility of false positives.)They traced and compared genetic lineage of contemporary animals to common ancestors living 260 million years ago—20 million years before the first dinosaurs. Analysts were able to estimate chromosomal changes across evolutionary time.Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, reveal that while chromosomes regularly rearrange their internal genes, relationships between DNA have remained fairly stable—a “significant discovery,” according to the University of Kent.“Remaining largely unchanged interchromosomally through the dinosaur-theropod route that led to modern birds,” the research paper said, “intrachromosomal changes nonetheless reveal evolutionary breakpoint regions enriched for genes with ontology terms related to chromatin organization and transcription.”Birds, like their dino predecessors, have a lot of chromosomes, which could be the reason for such diversity among the feathered creatures.“Our results suggest that most elements of a typical ‘avian-like’ karyotype … were in place before the divergence of turtles from birds [about] 255 [million years ago],” the team wrote. “This genome organization therefore predates the emergence of early dinosaurs and pterosaurs and the evolution of flight.”If scientists were to recreate chromosomes from a hollow-boned, three-toed theropod dinosaur, it may look a lot like a modern-day ostrich, duck, or chicken.Recent dino discoveries include a giant crock with T. Rex teeth, and 80-million-year-old fossils that unlock Africa’s dinosaur evolution. Also, check out 10 historic dinosaur hoaxes you won’t believe we fell for and more here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Scientists Uncover New Evidence of Asteroid That Killed DinosaursEgg Fossils Provide Glimpse Into Prehistoric Parenting Stay on targetlast_img read more