The Huggler is a cuddly monkey that's for adults as much as kids. It grunts, yawns, and laughs when squeezed, tickled, and poked, and contains a host of sensors to pick up on the emotional state of people doing the hugging. The idea is to offer a tactile companion for elderly patients, while monitoring for risks of Alzheimer's and dementia.
Developed in Singapore, the Huggler is currently on trial at the St Luke's Eldercare Hospital, in the north of the island. And according to the Straits Times, it's a popular addition so far. "I prefer it to an actual dog as it does not bite," one patient told the paper.
Its creators say the Huggler can engage the elderly where traditional stimulation can't, and alert caregivers to moods in an unobtrusive way. The robot tracks how people are interacting with it, picking up on both physical actions (how hard a person squeezes, say) and the noises they make. This data is then fed into a "sound-event classification" system that assesses the hugger's state of mind.
"The current method of monitoring the mental well-being of elderly is based on manual observation and questionnaires that are very subjective," wrote Tan Yeow Yee, one of the developers, in an email. "We can use Huggler to monitor and provide the information to geriatrician to allow them to make more accurate deduction."
Other devices, such as the Paro robotic seal accomplish similar goals. A study earlier this year found Paro could be a useful therapeutic companion, particularly among patients with cognitive impairment.
Yee, a researcher at the A*STAR Social Robotics Laboratory, says he's currently focused on testing the Huggler in more locations, improving the quality of the fur, and softening the motor inside (it is too hard at the moment, he says). He hopes to have a full product ready in two years.