Science Scope

Emoticons were so last year. Feel the love through a virtual hug

Posting in Technology

We've gotten used to the lack of emotion through online chats. But it doesn't have to be that way. Japanese researchers have created a robot that can read your emotions and send a virtual hug through its special augmented reality system.

Chatting is about to get way more intimate thanks to augmented reality. Or at least that was the tone of the Augmented Human International Conference held in France over the weekend.

While some researchers were focused on tapping into people's brain waves to connect them to machines, Japanese researchers wanted to enhance emotions. The scientists unveiled their robot, iFeel_IM!

The Age reports:

Dzmitry Tsetserukou, an assistant professor at Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan, said his aim was to boost feeling, to add a human-like sense of touch to the incorporeal ether of cyberspace.

"We are steeped in computer-mediated communication -- SMS, e-mail, Twitter, Instant Messaging, 3-D virtual worlds -- but many people don't connect emotionally," he said in an interview.

By outfitting a person with sensors, speakers, vibrators, and motors, strapped around their torso — their emotions can be read by the robot and picked up by the other person. And of course, the person can also feel the incoming emotions too.

Good thing the robot is 90 percent accurate in judging emotions like joy, fear, and guilt. Plus the vibrations are meant to mimic the all-so-awesome butterfly effect, recreate the feeling of a hug, and provide warmth when necessary. Therefore, whatever is written in text can be interpreted and expressed in a physical emotion like a hug.

As mobile systems begin to support augmented reality, the researchers see emotionally enhanced communication becoming more portable. In the future (as the scientists see it), we will soon live double lives as the characters do in Avatar. When the scientists tested their system in Second Life, saying it is like Avatar was a stretch. But at least it's a start:

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure