The HUGGIE Project

The first phase of the HUGGIE project will start at the School of Business FHNW in March 2020. Oliver Bendel was able to recruit two students from the International Management program. The project idea is to create a social robot that contributes directly to a good life and economic success by touching and hugging people and especially customers. HUGGIE should be able to warm up in some places, and it should be possible to change the materials it is covered with. A research question will be: What are the possibilities besides warmth and softness? Are optical stimuli (also on displays), vibrations, noises, voices etc. important for a successful hug? HUGGIE could also play a role in crises and disasters, in epidemics and pandemics and in cases of permanent social distancing. Of course it would be bad if only a robot would hug us, and of course it would be good if humans could hug us every day if we wanted them to do so – but maybe in extreme situations a hug by a robot is better than nothing. The HUGGIE project is located in the heart of social robotics and on the periphery of machine ethics. It is inspired by the work of Ishiguro, but especially by the research on HuggieBot. By summer 2020, the students will conduct an online survey to find out the attitudes and expectations of the users.

The Interceptor in the Cengkareng Drain

Plastic in rivers and seas is one of the biggest problems of our time. Whether bottles or bags, whether macro or micro plastic – the flora and fauna is impaired and destroyed. Six projects against plastic waste have already been presented here. The focus was on the seas. One of the initiatives is now also active in the rivers. This is very important because what is fished out in the rivers no longer ends up in the oceans. The magazine Fast Company reported on 26 October 2019: “In the Cengkareng Drain, a river that runs through the megacity of Jakarta, Indonesia, tons of plastic trash flows to the ocean each year. But now a new solar-powered robot called the Interceptor is gobbling up the waste so that it can be recycled instead. The system was designed by the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup, which spent the past four years secretly developing and testing the technology while it continued to work on its main project – a device that can capture plastic trash once it’s already in the ocean.” (Fast Company, 26 October 2019) This is good news. However, the most important thing is to avoid plastic waste. Otherwise, the destruction of the waters will continue unstoppably.

Robot Priests can Perform your Funeral

“Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral” – this is the title of an article published in Vox on 9 September 2019. “A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) The robot looks like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. According to Vox, it is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline. “For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) There is hope that the robot will not bring people back to faith, but rather enthuse them for the knowledge of science – the science that Mindar created.

The Bartender Robot

The activities in a pub or a club are demanding. You have to take orders from guests, you have to understand them and be friendly to them, and you have to prepare drinks like Porn Star Martini or White Lady behind the counter. Then you must bring the bill, take money and give change. Robots are more or less good at these things. F & P Robotics has developed Barney, a complete and simple robotic bar solution. The Swiss company is known for its ambitious robots for therapy and care. Now it obviously wants to conquer the gastronomy. Barney offers an easy-to-use interface and a simple payment system. According to the manufacturer, the system impresses with elegant movements during the preparation of the drink. As a typical cobot, it can also work hand in hand with human bartenders. At Hotel Interlaken, Switzerland, you can see Barney in action from 13 August to 15 September 2019. You can form your own opinion and either come to the conclusion that this is the future – or that you still want a human service and a human smile. More information via www.barney-bar.com.

Hologram Girl

The article “Hologram Girl” by Oliver Bendel deals first of all with the current and future technical possibilities of projecting three-dimensional human shapes into space or into vessels. Then examples for holograms from literature and film are mentioned, from the fictionality of past and present. Furthermore, the reality of the present and the future of holograms is included, i.e. what technicians and scientists all over the world are trying to achieve, in eager efforts to close the enormous gap between the imagined and the actual. A very specific aspect is of interest here, namely the idea that holograms serve us as objects of desire, that they step alongside love dolls and sex robots and support us in some way. Different aspects of fictional and real holograms are analyzed, namely pictoriality, corporeality, motion, size, beauty and speech capacity. There are indications that three-dimensional human shapes could be considered as partners, albeit in a very specific sense. The genuine advantages and disadvantages need to be investigated further, and a theory of holograms in love could be developed. The article is part of the book “AI Love You” by Yuefang Zhou and Martin H. Fischer and was published on 18 July 2019. Further information can be found via link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-19734-6.