Roboticist Steve Yohanan thinks there's something missing from the design of many robots: the human touch. By omitting the touch sensation from robotic design, Steve thinks that scientists and engineers are missing out on an important machine-human interaction, capable of communicating emotions. So he's designed and built Haptic Creature, a furry robotic research bunny with touch feedback as its only way of communicating.
"I had a cat for many years, and what I miss most about interacting with her is touch," says Steve. So he designed the furry rabbit robot to be laced with pressure sensors so it can sense where and how it's being touched or stroked. It then responds by making breathing-like motions, purring vibrations, or ear wiggles.
And though it sounds like a whacky bit of science, apparently a research study at the University of British Columbia showed that people who stroked the bunny had an emotional response even to this limited feedback, and could identify the bunny's "emotions" across a range of negative to positive.
Does this mean that next-gen Asimo's will go all soft, and like to be cuddled? Probably not, but I can only guess that Steve's research will wend its way into future robo-pets that connect to their owners even more than the lovable Pleo seems to. [New Scientist]