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This Robot Just Wants a Hug

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I love hugs. Like, really love them. I’d choose a warm embrace over a cream cheese-smeared bagel, an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt binge, or a sale on scented candles.

So you can bet I’m excited about the prospect of a humanoid robot programmed to hug people.

HuggieBot—a modified Willow Garage PR2 robot—is the first step toward an IRL Baymax: 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 Ph.D. student in the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

Studies suggest that hugs—whether between family, friends, or significant others—can ease stress, lower blood pressure, and make us feel supported, all of which helps stave off infection.

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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 have a hug, please?”

Some folks were wary of embracing the 450-pound computer, while others seemed excited for the novel opportunity.

No one was crushed to death or ran away screaming, NBC News MACH reported; some participants told researchers that HuggieBot was “nicer to hug” than they anticipated.

Researchers are working on a second-generation machine—one that measures how much emotional support its hugs provide. Their ultimate goal, according to MACH, is to “demonstrate that robots are able to comfort people” young and old.

Block has no intention, though, of replacing human embraces (because who would want to?). She simply wants to supplement them.

“We’re advocating for this technology to be used as a complement to other people,” she said, “in situations where it is difficult or uncomfortable to get the support a person needs or wants from another human”—like a college campus or senior living facility.

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Replace the Nanny With China’s iPal Robot Companion

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iPal is more than a robot: it’s an educator, a companion, and a greeter.

Unveiled at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show Asia, the child-sized bot is getting a lot of attention for its babysitter-esque capabilities.

As reported by AFP, iPal speaks two languages (English and presumably Mandarin), gives math lessons, tells jokes, and interacts with humans through a six-inch screen in its chest.

Standing 3.5 feet tall—eye level with a four-year-old—the motorized machine is basically a wheeled nanny cam: Parents can pair a smartphone to hear and see everything iPal does.

Manufacturer AvatarMind Robot Technology, however, wants users to think of iPal more as a buddy.

Meet iPal, your child’s new best friend (via AvatarMind Robot Technology)

“The idea for this robot is to be a companion for children,” Tinguy Huang, co-founder of manufacturer AvatarMind Robot Technology, told AFP. “When a child sees it, he or she will think of the robot as a friend, as another child in the family.”

Whether teaching through Android learning apps (iPal can answer most kiddie questions or download answers when necessary), showing off nimble dance moves, or recording your child’s growth spurts, this robot is more refined than the neighborhood teen looking to make a few bucks from weary parents.

It certainly costs more: The base version sells for $1,999, while the “enhanced” model is $2,499. Customized business versions are valued at $10,000. A daunting price tag hasn’t deterred some potential buyers, according to AFP.

“They’re pretty cute. I was just thinking my own two-year-old daughter would love one,” Mike Stone, a customer from Australia, said.

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China’s long-standing one-child policy (raised to two in 2016) has created a culture of small families, often unable to care for children or elders during working hours.

Enter iPal, built for wee ones and senior citizens, offering company and camaraderie to those who need it most.

“I don’t think the robots can replace parents or teachers,” Huang said. “But iPal can be a complementary tool to relieve some of their burden.”

The robot can even remind folks to take their daily pills or sound the alarm in an emergency.

AvatarMind also envisions a future in retail and hospitality, where the androids can green children at a toy store or provide guest services in a hotel.

iPal began shipping in China late last year, and was scheduled for release in the US this May.

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The Most Incredible Art Ever Made With MS Paint

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1. Hal Lasko

Hal Lasko, The Thriller

Hal Lasko spent most of his life as a traditional painter, but when his eyesight degenerated too much to accurately place his brush he switched to the digital medium at the age of 90! He quickly became one of the most accomplished and inventive MS Paint artists in the world, depicting a variety of subjects in a visual style that takes cues from French impressionism. Hal died at the age of 98, so at least he didn’t have to say goodbye to Paint as well.

2. Sonofjay

Sonofjay Luke Skywalker

The spray paint function in MS Paint was one of the program’s best tools, a way to add pixel texture to drawings that, if used correctly, could lead to incredible depth even with just a few colors. Redditor Sonofjay posted several incredibly impressive illustrations made with Paint in 2012, including this shot of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.

3. Jim Murray

Jim'll Paint It

Working under the Tumblr name “Jim’ll Paint It,” James Murray might be one of the most accomplished MS Paint artists in the world – and he takes requests. All you need to do is ask and a few times a month he kicks out a bizarre and quirky image, like this one featuring Fox McCloud, Miles “Tails” Prower and Grey Fox hunting down Theresa May while Queen’s Brian May and some badgers cheer.

4. Diamonster

Diamonster

Making delicate blended color in Microsoft Paint is a tricky proposition, but DeviantArt user Diamonster pulls it off with aplomb in this lovely Venetian cityscape. The artist documented their process with multiple shots, showing just how complex it is to do digital painting with software so primitive.

5. Khanstant

Khanstant Floaty Island

The r/MSPaint subreddit is a place where Redditors go to show off their workplace doodles, and the top-scoring submission of all time by a guy named “Khanstant” perfectly sums up the Paint aesthetic. Because the program let you create canvases of massive size, it was easy to doodle on it like you would a piece of paper and create bizarre landscapes full of goony creatures.

6. Lucas Gomes DeSouza

Lucas Gomes DeSouza - Joker

Truly great MS Paint artists lean in hard to the program’s limitations, using the small color palette and grubby brushes to add texture and character to their images. This evocative portrait of the Joker by Lucas Gomes DeSouza stretches Paint to its limit. We’d kill to see a whole story drawn this way.

7. Toweringhorizon

Toweringhorizon - To A Little Radio

Redditor Toweringhorizon is one of the most popular posters on the MSPaint subreddit, and this recent piece is a great illustration why. So many things that are difficult to to in Paint – surface reflections, gradients, et cetera – are on display in this quirky and compelling image. He’s truly making the most out of the tools in the program.

8. Dan Jackson

Dan Jackson - The Maxx

Many artists got their start dabbling with MS Paint before moving on to more advanced programs. Florida animator Dan Jackson recently shared this fan art of Sam Keith’s cult classic Image comic The Maxx that he made in 1988, painstakingly laying down dots in Paint one mouse click at a time.

9. Kronomatic

Kronomatic - Tactical Airlift Command Night Mission

This is slightly cheating because artist Kronomatic did use Photoshop for a little bit of the blur around the green displays (you can’t do that in Paint) but the sheer artistry and attention to detail in the rest of the image is out of control. Look at those fabric wrinkles! That’s some of the best MS Paint figure drawing we’ve ever seen.

10. Pat Hines

Pat Hines - Camp Redblood

Author and illustrator Pat Hines had a devil of a time getting used to Adobe Photoshop, so to illustrate his novel Camp Redblood And The Essential Revenge he stuck with MS Paint, which he’d been using for ten years while slacking off at a hospital reception desk. Hines’s compositions are incredibly detailed and his perspective is off the chain.

11. Pat Hines

Pat Hines - Mad Eye Vs. Voldemort

Hines’ work is so remarkable – and so purely MS Paint – that we broke the rules and put in a second piece of his. This one depicts the frenzied combat between Mad Eye Moody and Voldemort during the Battle of the Seven Potters.

12. Cottoncritter

Cottoncritter - The In Between

The fiddly nature of MS Paint makes it perfect for drawing fantastical landscapes with lots of organic detail. DeviantArt user Cottoncritter is well known for their richly textured vistas, executed in a minimalist color palette, and this image is one of my favorites.

13. Shukei20

Shukei20 - Dark Girl

Artist Shukei20 embraces the limitations of MS Paint by rendering beautiful portraits in grayscale. The gradients that he gets out of this primitive program are seriously amazing, especially when you consider how limited the tool is. This is one of his more impressive works.

14. Bilgehan Erdoğan

Bilgehan Erdoğan - Audi Allroad

Turkish artist Bilgehan Erdoğan is an incredible talent, capable of rendering exceptionally detailed and accurate shading and reflection on the vehicles he creates in Microsoft Paint. He often documents the 20+ hours each image takes him with time-lapse YouTube videos.

15. Wizyakuza

Wizyakuza - Raiden

I really love the soft tones of this portrait of cyborg ninja Raiden from the Metal Gear Solid series. Because MS Paint doesn’t let you select colors with real granularity, the artist had to use careful crosshatching and interlacing to pull off the skin tone.

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Sexy Robots Help Cure Erectile Dysfunction

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If there’s one thing that the modern world teaches us, it’s that everything changes. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen massive paradigm shifts in just about every aspect of human existence, from the way we work to how we meet romantic partners and even interact with our friends. The most basic things are ripe for disruption, and what could be more basic than sex?

The old-fashioned in and out is still perfectly good, but people want more. And we’re not talking the kinky stuff, but instead the very idea of “sex” with a partner. The teledildonics revolution has already begun, with people getting off across great distances through motion-sensing sex toys. And many experts are predicting that we’ll have fully artificial sex partners – robots – in the next few decades.

While these robots are going to primarily be sold for recreational purposes, there are legitimate medical uses for the technology as well. One of the most interesting is going to be in sex therapy – helping people with a variety of conditions enjoy intercourse better. For guys, that means that they could provide a path to overcoming erectile dysfunction.

Robots Kissing

via sorayama.net

Trouble Down There

There are numerous causes for erectile dysfunction. Some of them are physical – anything that interferes with your body’s natural blood flow can be the culprit, like heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol. Your physical condition can also hinder your little soldier’s ability to stand at attention, with obesity a major contributor. But many cases of ED are down to psychological factors, and that’s how scientists think sex robots can help.

Stress, depression, and anxiety can interfere with the mental signals necessary to initiate arousal. And there’s plenty of all three surrounding intimacy in today’s sex-obsessed culture. We’ve been so habituated by media (especially pornography) to think that intercourse has to go a certain way to be successful. Most people can’t live up to the examples set by adult movie stars, whether that’s the size of their equipment or the length of time they can use it. And when you go into an intimate situation doubting yourself, that’s going to color the whole experience in a negative light.

So sex robots and other technology could help with this by creating a comfortable environment for people to experiment sexually and get feedback without worrying about the pleasure or emotional response of another human being. Convincing a flesh and blood woman to participate in something like that would be a pretty serious test of a relationship, so automating it makes sense. Let’s try to imagine how it would work.

Sexy Robot In Dress

via sorayama.net

Practice Runs

One of the most contentious debates in the robot sex world is if making love to a synthetic object is actually, you know, making love or if it’s just ridiculously complicated masturbation. We’re more inclined to think it’s the latter, but the potential for sex robots to detect and record stimuli and react to their surroundings makes them a little more useful than a Fleshlight for the purpose of resolving sexual anxiety.

One of the most common anxieties men have about sex is premature ejaculation. Even though the average lovemaking session is 7.3 minutes and 43% of heterosexual intercourse is over in less than two minutes, people still seem to think that the act has to last for half an hour in multiple positions. And stress makes that time shorter, not longer.

Being able to simulate the act with a robotic partner can help men understand the positions and movements that bring them to climax and avoid or delay them. Building these robots with force feedback mechanisms can allow men to gently ramp up to these triggers and increase their tolerance for them. It’s obviously possible to do this with old-fashioned masturbation, but it requires a little more self-control.

While sex robots aren’t at that point yet, it’s easy to imagine models hooked up with biofeedback sensors that can determine when a partner is about to climax and reduce stimulation to gently bring them away from the edge and prolong their experience. Over time, men can build confidence and reduce anxiety, making for more boners.

In addition, simply being able to simulate the sex act with a realistic partner can help aid men become comfortable with the basic positions and movements, reducing anxiety when they get to the real thing. This isn’t something that you’re taught in high school heath class, and usually only comes together after a bunch of awkward experimentation. For people who didn’t get the chance to fool around in their teens (where bad sex is sort of all you get), this could be a serious blessing.

The Dark Side

The obvious downside to this treatment methodology is that sex is a two-way street, and the only way to learn how to please a partner is through communication. All of the time in the world won’t help you if you aren’t making love in a way that works for your partner. Expecting sex robots to develop the kind of natural language skills that would let them ask to be pleasured in specific ways is a pretty far off dream. So dudes might be able to tackle their erectile dysfunction, but they still have work to do on the path to truly great sex.

Of course, there’s also the fear – laid out in multiple newspaper articles – that sex robots will somehow replace real intimacy entirely. If sex robots can provide men with an orgasmic experience tailored to their fantasies using a partner who never says no, what use will they have for real partners? I think that’s a little overstated a fear. No matter how good simulated sex can be, the real thing is a complex ballet of emotions, hormones, and physicality that science is hard-pressed to duplicate.

Topless Robot

via sorayama.net

Computer Love

Sex robot makers aren’t looking to create a world where mechanical intimacy replaces the real thing, except for a few dedicated perverts. Instead, what they want is simply to give people another option for sexual pleasure in a way that’s healthy and ethical.

Today’s sex robots are still pretty primitive – just a step up from inflatable sex dolls with adjustable motorized orifices. But there’s a lot of money involved in making these things more robust and commercially viable. We wouldn’t be terribly surprised if some big names on the medical side of things take the tech and go to the FDA with it as a way to make sex accessible for people who have problems either physical or psychological.

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