I was thinking last night about hugging. Hugging is a funny thing really. I know why we do it, it’s nice and all that, but I wonder what it is that makes us hug? Then I wondered if maybe humans are the only animals that hug. I can’t really remember seeing animals hug or show each other the same kind of physical affection. I mean the other day as I was driving through Wales (killing wildlife) I didn’t see any sheep locked in embrace. I can’t imagine a sheep seeing another that they hadn’t seen for a while and greeting it with a hug.

Do we need to hug one another? Is there some inbuilt need within all of us to hold another? Not sex, not love, but just connection? A quick Google revealed that one robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh feel that we do indeed need hugs. They have developed a rather creepy robotic pillow that can give you a hug via a wireless phone as you speak to a friend or family member.

The ugly robotic hug pillow is shaped like a person about to give a hug, with two arms reaching up and out from a small torso. To remotely send a hug the parties involved both have to have one of these freaky pillows. The hugger then has to speak the name of the person they want to hug into a mic on their robotic hug pillow while squeezing its left paw. Using voice recognition software it then identifies the intended recipient of the hug and then contacts that person own robotic ugly hug pillow making it light up and play a sound.

The ‘hugee’ then squeezes the left paw on the pillow and says hello. Squeezes or pats of the pillow are picked up by sensors then converted into a data stream that is sent to the other otherwise lifeless hug pillow. Thermal fibers around the Hug’s belly radiate heat that increases with time. If someone is not home to receive a hug, the other person can leave a message that includes voice and vibration patterns.

Francine Gemperle, a researcher who worked on the project explained that the robotic hug pillow is purely experimental and there is no hope that it will be mass produced any time soon. “It would need to go through product development, where people may want to change its appearance and make it more adaptable to different-sized people.”

I find it hard to believe that squeezing a bag of beans is ever going to replace the feeling of hugging another person, in the same way that shagging a a blow doll surely can’t be that rewarding! But if people are researching ways to remotely hug it must tell us something about our strange, and dare I suggest, unique need to hold another.

Need a Hug? A Robotic Pillow Can Help
Carnegie Mellon University