You can now get a massage without having to rely on another human being or leave your home, thanks to newly developed robot masseurs.
French company Capsix Robotics and researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK have both created robots that can give personalised massages.
The Capsix model has a robotic arm with sensors and a camera that allow it to adapt to the individual user’s body shape. It has been programmed with a range of massage protocols developed by physiotherapists, and users can adjust the firmness of the massage.
François Eyssautier at Capsix, who engineered the robot, says over 4000 people have tried it and most have enjoyed it. Some people are a bit unsure at first, but “after 3 or 4 minutes they forget it’s a robot and just relax,” he says.
The advantage of having a robot masseur is that “you don’t have to have contact with any other person,” says Eyssautier. This is useful in the covid-19 era when close contact with others is not recommended, he says. “Also, sometimes we don’t want to be touched by other people, we just want to relax on our own,” he says.
The University of Plymouth robot works in a similar way to the Capsix one but can be customised even further. Instead of being limited to pre-programmed massage protocols, users can teach the robot to perform the exact movements they like by physically guiding its arm in a training session. “People can teach the massaging activities to the robot, then the robot will learn them and play them back,” says Chunxu Li, who co-designed the robot.
However, there is a long way to go before robot masseurs can be as good as human ones, says Shane Kertanegara, a physiotherapist at Optimi Health in Sydney, Australia. “A human physiotherapist can feel where someone is tight and concentrate on that spot, but a robot can’t get that sensory feedback and adjust its manual therapy accordingly,” he says.
Moreover, because the robot hands don’t have fingers, they can’t perform the same fine manipulations as human therapists, says Kertanegara. “Although I’m sure that technology will improve over time,” he says.
The Capsix robot is currently available to rent but not to buy. The University of Plymouth robot is still in the research phase, but Li says he hopes it will one day be available for people to purchase for home use.
newscientist.com, 17 August 2020
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