Written by IEEE | December 4, 2018

From our first breath to our very last, human beings require a personal touch. Skin-to-skin contact is one of the first sensations we experience, and it plays a vital role in our physical and psychological well-being.

Over the years, there has been a lot of research regarding the benefits of human touch when it comes to healing, boosting immunity, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. This understanding of the importance of human touch is also crucial when it comes to figuring out how to replicate it with a robot.

As we interact more with social AI, researchers are looking to develop robots that can assimilate with humans, designing them to feel, understand and respond to tactile experiences.

At this year’s ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems presented the paper “Emotionally Supporting Humans Through Robot Hugs” (paid version available here). Their work strives to design and teach robots how to hug people in ways that people will enjoy.

In their write-up of the findings, IEEE Spectrum notes that the tangible health benefits found in the study included lowering blood pressure, increasing oxytocin levels and significant improvements to mental health. The article also includes a demonstration of participants hugging HuggieBot, the robot designed for the study.

While the work is ongoing, breakthroughs in robotic touch stand to have tremendous implications for human well-being. Until then, if you want to see other ways in which robots are pushing the limits of what’s possible, visit the new IEEE Spectrum ROBOTS site. You can also watch our Transmitter video series on how robots are improving our health.