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By Eric Lieberman
A subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company filed a patent February for a “huggable,” “soft body,” robot in hopes of eventually introducing a family-friendly therapeutic robot into the market.
The inventors of Disney Enterprises say there is a “need for robots that can safely interact with humans, and, particularly, with children,” because other designs do not account for comfortability and direct human contact, according to the official filing. The patent application, which was made public in early April, lists a number of features the robot is expected to have, including pressure sensors which can help the robots properly adjust to human contact.
“Where physical human and robot interaction is expected, it often is desirable for the robot’s joints and body parts to be compliant and yielding to avoid injury and damage,” the patent’s relevant background section reads. “For example, in nursing homes, a furry seal robot has been utilized that responds to being held and pet and helps to keep our older generations socially active and engaged.”
To differentiate itself from other therapeutic robots already being tested or on the market, the inventors mentioned that others have “a sensorized silicone skin that covers its underlying mechanics,” but do not have a wide range of motion.
The developers sought to design the robot to be durable, but also human-like, such as by having “soft skin.” The majority of body parts were also filled with a liquid or gas (like air) to make it resemble and feel like a human.
After testing the prototypes with children, they found that the robot “was robust to playful, physical interaction.”
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