Picture this. A child is in a hospital room, away from home and scared by his or her surroundings. Everything smells different, everything looks different, all the people are different. Where are mom and dad? When is it time to go home?
Suddenly, in marches a robotic monster with green fur asking for hugs.
Such is the vision of Bill Gates, Fujitsu-Siemens, and the Belgium-based ANTY foundation. They’re building an “intelligent, autonomous huggy robot” to interact with hospitalized children in an attempt to make being away from home a little less scary.
“The ANTY team members are designing and developing an intelligent huggy robot [named] Probo. A first prototype is to be expected in 2008. This prototype will be used with hospitalized children and will be used as a research platform to obtain our final goal, to create a friend for life!”
Probo is being designed to interact with children as entertainment and even for certain medical treatments. ANTY researchers will be studying how Probo is able to deal with vision, speech, intelligence, and emotions. I’ll be most interested to see how they work out the whole “friend for life” angle. It might be kind of awkward running into Probo twenty years after you’ve gotten out of the hospital.