Forever Alone 2.0


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by DigInfo, Lovotics
07 Monday 07th May 2012

In case you've not been brushing up on your robotics current affairs, you may not be aware that as of last week the Hiroshi Ishiguro Design Show is running in Tokyo until May 27th. Professor Ishiguro's name will be familiar to anyone who's already seen our piece on creepily human-like android robots and/or knows about his pretty prolific string of creations. He's responsible for the world's most life-like robots known thus far, and has a new one up his sleeve that's about to change the lives of long-distance lovers/forever aloners.

Now that he's checked the 'build a robot twin that looks and feels just like I do' box off his career to-do list, Ishiguro's spearheading research into the gadgetry that will allow us to mimic romantic human relationships. With the help of a few robots, from the cuddly robo-pillow pictured above to a kissing machine that's being developed by another team of researchers, it looks like we'll be well on our way to dating the little metallic lotharios in no time. And if the study of lovotics has any say in things, that won't be seen as gross or disconcerting at all.

To start, we have to take a look at Hugvie. This human-shaped pillow is the first soft, communicative robot with an artificial heartbeat and the ability to change its behaviour based on aural cues taken from phone conversations. The premise is as follows: a mobile phone is plugged into the robot, then Hugvie responds accordingly to the voice on the other end of line by snuggling up to and vibrating all over whomever happens to be holding it. Sceptics who thought the awesomeness of human contact could never be replicated better get in line to buy this £40 cuddle-bot and revel in the comfort it's meant to radiate.

Watch a constantly-giggling researcher justify his work. And make out with a straw

Hugging is only one part of any healthy relationship, though. As anyone else who's suffered through a long-distance set-up will know, the lack of someone to easily make out with becomes glaringly obvious within days. Nobuhiro Takahashi's team at the Kajimoto Laboratory in Tokyo's University of Electro-communications are working to wipe this problem out. They've developed the eerie 'kiss transmitter' you see above, which at the moment functions with a pretty rudimentary swivelling straw apparatus but is meant to evolve into a tongue replicator. That's right: this spinning straw is going to eventually be able to mimic the heat, moistness and movement of someone else's tongue when you're going at it, French-style.

The researchers even see the merit in getting celebrities to sell their kiss 'fingerprints' and get fans to pay to interact with them. The implications for stalker/fantasy relationships are now endless.

Terrible music choice aside, the premise here is still pretty depressing

For a more reserved kissing experience, there's always the Kissenger, developed by the scholar responsible for the entire school of Lovotics (the study of love and robotics, naturally). Hooman Samani has come up with this pig-resembling plastic contraption which you can plug into your laptop and use to synchronise clinical kisses with. The lips vibrate and purse themselves a little in return when they feel pressure against them, which is surely as good as any real kiss. Right?

Samani's entire body of work on getting humans and robots to have feelings for each other has found a way to replicate the key hormones experienced during romantic love (dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin and serotonin amongst others) and implant them in little robot 'brains'. Soon, if this video is any indication, we'll be cuddling, rowing and having make-up kisses with these soulless bots. Humans. Who needs 'em?

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