Loneliness has become a serious social issue in Japan, prompting robotics researchers to develop everything from humanoid robots to furry cybernetic “seals” for isolated people to interact with at home.
And of course sex robots are becoming ever more sophisticated and realistic in an attempt to replicate the special intimacy that adults can enjoy in the privacy of their own bedroom or – as long as the curtains are drawn – lounge.
But robotics researchers at Japan’s Gifu University went further, building a device that simulates going for a long, leisurely walk with a loved one.
The researchers, Koshiro Shiraki, Toru Notsumata, Moeka Miki, and Takeru Mushika, say :”For some people, finding a girlfriend is very difficult,” and so they set out to create a way for lonely young men to “experience holding your girlfriend’s hand more easily than by finding a girlfriend.”
For now, like the majority of sex robot manufacturers, the scientists have decided just to emulate a female companion.
In a recently published paper titled “My Girlfriend in Walk” the team published designs for a sophisticated robotic female hand that grips, moves and even sweats like the real thing.
A complex elbow-mounted sliding rail mimics that push-and-pull when the person you’re holding hands with slows down or speeds up slightly, and the vice is even paired with a smartphone app that plays the sounds of a woman’s footsteps and the rustling of their clothes as they move.
The pliable “skin” is heated to human body temperature and pores release liquid from a reservoir inside to get that reassuringly sweaty feeling.
The device is scented with a subtle perfume that is supposed to replicate the mixture of soap, shampoo and cosmetics you might smell while walking with a real live human woman.
The team says part of the impetus behind the invention is to provide comfort for those who might be living isolated lifestyles during the coronavirus pandemic, and give them more of a reason to get some fresh air and exercise.
While that might seem a touch eccentric to many, the growing Hikikomori trend in Japan – where young people lock themselves away indoors without ever going out – suggest that there might just be a market for this strange-looking invention.