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It is a pretty odd thing to think about a robot giving you a hug, but who does not like hugs?

Introducing the HuggieBot, a modified Willow Garage PR2 robot. As tall as an average human, it is made with layers of foam, polyester, and other materials for extra-soft comfort (and as an added bonus, it won't deflate when the battery runs low).

"We’re interested in enabling robots to hug because of how common hugs are in daily life and because of their numerous health benefits," according to lead researcher Alexis Block, a PhD student in the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

"When my advisor and I were discussing several potential topics for my masters thesis, we realized both of our families lived far away," said Block. "We thought about how nice it would be to get a hug from our moms on difficult or stressful days. This idea became HuggieBot."

Earlier this year, Block presented her own findings, based on a study in which HuggieBot gave 30 participants 12 different mechanical hugs. The experiment, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, featured the cyborg raising its arms expectantly and asking "Can I give you a hug, please?".

According to Block, "the study participants gave us lots of helpful feedback that will enable us to create a robot that gives even better hugs,". "We are now in the process of developing HuggieBot 2.0, which will be more ergonomic and responsive to its hugging partner. We plan to compare the psychological and physiological effects of hugging this new robot with the effects of hugging other people. And finally, we hope to be able to allow people to send each other customized hugs through HuggieBot 2.0 and see how these remote robot-mediated interactions affect personal relationships."

The second-generation machine will measure how much emotional support its hugs provide. HuggieBot 2.0 will be more ergonomic and responsive to its hugging partner.

Have a look at the robot in action below.

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