Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone
April 30th, 2012
12:07 PM ET

Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - A Japanese roboticist recently showed off a giant, person-shaped pillow that also doubles as a cell phone and vibrates based on the frequency of the voice of the person you're talking to. If you're inclined to give this the benefit of the doubt, think of it as a step forward in "haptic" technology, which aims to bring the largely missing sense of touch into the realm of digital communications.

Or, if you're a skeptic: Just call it creepy.

The "Hugvie" robot reportedly is the work of Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who, among other things, is known for making a robotic version of himself.  He also created a Telenoid robot that stands in for humans and, as IEEE Spectrum described it, looks like "a supersized fetus."

The aim of Hugvie, as he explains in the above video by DigInfo TV, is to help people who are talking on the phone feel as if they're actually with the person they're speaking with:

"The two vibrators produce a throbbing sound like a heartbeat. That pulse can get faster or stronger depending on the volume and tone of the caller's voice. We've used several rules like that to create the pulsing sound. When we give Telenoids to seniors, most people hugged them ... when they talked to the other person."

The semi-robotic pillow creature looks kind of like Casper the ghost and comes in an array of colors. Here's a photo gallery. It appears to be available for $50 on a Japanese robot website. In the video, the roboticist describes the Hugvie as a "soft cuddly object shaped like a person." You put your phone inside a pocket in the pillow-bot, the video says, so that you can make and receive calls to people you know.

Again, assuming we're taking this development seriously, it falls in an interesting (and/or terrifying) line of devices that aim to connect long-distance communicators via touch, or to enhance media-viewing with haptic feedback. A couple we've reported on: The Emotichair aims to augment the movie-going experience by sending vibrations into the viewer's spine; and there have been various attempts to let people give each other a "virtual hug" while they're communicating on video chat on the telephone.

If you view all this as just as strange as that other pillow trend to come out of Japan, you could look at it the way the tech site CNET does. The Hugvie, that site writes, is the "perfect accessory for your next cell phone rave/love-in."

Gizmodo's Australian website piles on, too:

This is one of those concepts that has noble intentions — I think — but comes across as just a little weird. Maybe a whole lot weird ... I get what they’re trying to get at here, although I can’t help but think that the comment that “most people hold it that way” is a little obvious; the phone’s in the robot/pillow’s head, so there’s really no other comfortable way to hold it except for hugging it.

Check out the video and let us know what you think. Apparently the robot-pillow makers think this could be used by lots of people. From the video: "We think this could be used by families and lovers, as well as by seniors and children."

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Filed under: Culture • Design • Innovation • Robots • Tech
soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. In home Personal Training

    I love that they aim to bring the largely missing sense of touch into the realm of digital communications. I think that would be great for long distance relationships.

    April 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Reply
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    September 19, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
  4. Vinicios

    They don't actually look THAT bad but what hapenepd? The more important question is how did they taste? I've never had a coated Rice Krispie treat, but it sounds kinda good.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:28 am | Reply
  5. Vijay

    WOW that is so totally cpeery I cannot even fathom it. I agree I thought flowers were the appropriate thing to send when you couldn't make a funeral. To let the family know you were thinking of them and their loss. I'm with Stan I don't know about this. It's a little too bizarre right now to even contemplate.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:21 am | Reply
  6. lyrker

    Here I was hoping it'd be a pillow you could lay your head on. Then you could lay on the couch and not even have to roll over to answer the phone if it rings.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  7. Celyia

    What about young children whose parent serves overseas in the armed forces? Or those in a long distance relationship? Have you never missed someone so much that you just wanted to grab the nearest stuffed animal or pillow and just squeeze it, simply to release a bit of that emotional energy? For those of you who haven't experienced that, I'm glad for you. But for a lot of people, there's something therapeutic in the act. Now, I can't really tell how effective -this- particular device is, but the idea has potential.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
    • crkohler

      no.. its creepy.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • Rudi

      There are definitely a lot of dltaies like that to take into consideration. That may be a nice level to bring up. I offer the ideas above as common inspiration but clearly there are questions just like the one you carry up where a very powerful thing can be working in sincere good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am positive that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both girls and boys really feel the influence of only a momente68aaf pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

      August 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  8. magneticink

    I'll get one for my blind schizophrenic uncle.

    May 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Reply
    • Ashvini

      cooljen93 on April 12, 2011 @glitterbubble16 wow that is ridiculous! how many poplee are in your party? I know when I was looking into it, it would cost my family of five $9000. It looks fantastic, but it has a massive price to pay!

      July 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  9. EagleEye

    Talking pillows aren't creepy compared to baby feetuses floating in the background of the picture 0.o

    May 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  10. JMS

    Do they see how immature and stupid they look with these things?

    May 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  11. The Social Preacher

    It's a pillow with a pocket for you to put your phone in, and this is somehow creepy, futuristic technology? Everything this guy has ever made has been some of the creepiest stuff on the planet, and the pillow gets front page? Hilarious.

    May 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  12. chuck

    Ummmm – speakerphone?!?! A little less creepy!

    May 1, 2012 at 8:45 am | Reply
  13. Speechless

    Wow. This is completely infantile.

    May 1, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
  14. David Nisbet

    "a supersized fetus" Oh you mean a fully-grown human then?

    May 1, 2012 at 6:16 am | Reply
  15. bibi

    cute and stupid at a time.....

    May 1, 2012 at 1:27 am | Reply
  16. Anna

    I found it quite interesting that they tested it on an already group of under hugged group of people. Senior Citizens. Of course they would get more positive feedback from an under touched group of people. Will they experiment on the sick next? I am sure we can make all the jokes (clean or dirty) I can see the value on society. I was thinking over the Holidays it would have been perfect he I could have just given my daughter a hug. Now if you want to go the x-rated route you would anyway. But I see a value in his intention and yeah it is a little creepy. But I remember when the keegal machine and some weird foot massagers first were marketed to the population. Lol I am sure there will always be a creepy factor. Lol

    April 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  17. cartoongrrl

    What kind of response does it emit when your mother in law calls?

    April 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  18. Bert

    i s   I t   A N a t o M i c a l l y   C o r r E c t ?

    April 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Reply
    • Josh

      Bert, are you wondering if it has a jack or a plug?

      May 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • Baru

      I must say, as substantially as I enoyjed reading what you had to say, I couldnt help but lose interest after a while. Its as if you had a terrific grasp to the subject matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from far more than one angle. Or maybe you shouldnt generalise so much. Its better if you think about what others may have to say instead of just going for a gut reaction to the topic. Think about adjusting your own thought process and giving others who may read this the benefit of the doubt.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  19. bob

    Might not be the best idea, but at least they are THINKING of new ideas, most USA people just whine and complain.

    April 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • Yanamre

      true indeed

      May 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  20. J3sus Sandals

    Works not only for calls with loved oens but also debt collectors, telemarketers and political robo-calls. I'm creeped out by the hanging baby-bots some of which appear to be spinning on their own in the background.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
    • Michael Creese

      I could not stop laughing after reading your comment. I actually had tears I was laughing so much. Thanks for the levity.

      May 1, 2012 at 1:27 am | Reply
  21. MiddleOfNowhere

    Speaking as someone in a long-distance relationship, I can definitely see the benefit in something like this. Granted, I won't be buying one, but I can certainly see the appeal.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  22. Joe

    only SEMI-creepy? The pathetic part about all of this is that the editor does not think it was REALLY creepy

    April 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  23. ACG

    Oh for crying out loud! If you want a hug, go find a real person. The world is full of them. Don't sit there with a pathetic plush buzzer. It won't help you any more than looking at pictures of food will make you less hungry.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  24. Chris


    April 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      The Third Man is an honorable meitonn and I'd also watched it many times.I'd already watched There Will be Blood around four times; that, like Lost In Translation I watch when I want to feel better, through melancholia. It's strange but there you have it.@Richard, I was born in 1981 and I'm a proud 1980s kid. The Back to the Future trilogy, Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Van Damme/Seagal films, Danny Kaye films and musicals like Mary Moppins are my childhood memories. Well, what's left of them.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:21 am | Reply
  25. guest

    anyone can make one.
    all you need is a pillow. $2.50
    small amplifier. $20
    transducer. $20
    moms credit card for the 1-900 numbers.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  26. Daniel

    That can be used for a lot of things. I just had a vision. No thanks!

    April 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  27. LMR

    The creep factor is overwhelming...

    April 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • Inzan

      gumboot | April 21, 2010 at 3:14 am | Transcoding the original MP4 to same-resolution Theora the penrafmorce is about the same for both in Safari (via XiphQT) and Chrome. Opera plays the full-resolution Theora just fine (earliest core2 mac mini), but doesn’t seem to want anything to do with the H.264 version. Firefox may or may not have problems (I don’t have it installed) but there’s no reason to assume they relate to video decode hardware acceleration.Could you provide the same resolution in both formats? Right now you’re penalising Opera artificially.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:30 am | Reply
  28. annebeth

    My cousin use to have a cheeseburger phone when we were kids. The envy was almost too much for me but my mother refused to buy me one. I had an old ugly brown ATT princess phone.

    April 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  29. Valentina

    giggity giggity!

    April 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  30. SuzyQ

    Where do I get one!!!! yummmmy

    April 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  31. Kansas Cowboy

    I really hope that thing is made of a nonporous material and easily rinsed off.

    April 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  32. jim

    It's not semi-creepy, it's full blown CREEPY!

    April 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  33. JD

    Creepy indeed. However, there could be new leaps in sales if this were marketed as a phone s3x device.... at least it would make sense seeing adults hugging a plush midget

    April 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  34. katie

    they invent some weird things!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  35. Guest

    Creepy is right. Maybe if they were under 6 years old and hugging the pillow, but that just pathetic.

    April 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  36. Jordan

    I don't see what's creepy about it. I think it's cute. Make them look like Teddy bears, or the equivalent, and they'd probably be a big hit with kids and teenage girls.

    April 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Deziann

      I'm afraid to find out what teenaged boys will do with it!

      April 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  37. #strawberries

    Hey joe wudduya know?

    April 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Pipers Son

      I agree, if anything it says more about the author than the device to call it creepy.

      April 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
      • conrad

        Totally agree – the shape might need to be adjusted to American preferences/norms, but it's only as creepy as you interpret it to be.

        April 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  38. Bill

    Watch out Apple!!!

    April 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  39. BD

    These guys should get in contact with the makers of the Snugee for some seriously awesome cross-promotion.

    April 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  40. JonfromLI

    So they finally found the cure for narcolepsy!

    April 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  41. Just Me

    I'm sorry – can you say voice activated stimulation device? Coming soon with attachments...

    April 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
    • Lokesh

      | April 21, 2010 at 4:49 am | This technique opens up a nice venue of video sepitrs where you can use a single video file to store a whole bunch of animations in various sizes for in games.Does the HTML5 video API allow you to set a movie to a specific frame (or time?) Could be a very efficient way of storing animation data that way.

      July 21, 2012 at 1:37 am | Reply
  42. Moxie Man

    I think MIT's Squirrel phone from a decade ago is more practical. 🙂

    April 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • Moxie Man

      Forgot the link to that oldy, but goody:

      April 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
      • aussyt

        yeah i just read it too, soo funny.

        April 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
      • Jonesyman

        aussyt – It only seems funny till someone calls and you accidentally pick up a real squirrel by mistake. Then it's hilarious!
        Well, as hilarious as squirrel bites to the face can get ... which is still pretty funny.

        May 1, 2012 at 10:06 am |
      • Ayu

        1) Because it's a masterpiece.2) You hate the flinyg daggers, but you're okay with the flinyg people? Wuxia is a fantasy genre. Accept it or move on.3) The heroine's blindness being faked was a plot twist I never saw coming. (Blind masters are the next thing to commonplace in the martial world, after all.) I haven't liked the movie any less on subsequent viewings, either. If anything, knowing about the plot twist makes me appreciate Zhang's performance all the more, because there are scenes where I actually forget her character isn't really blind.4) Curse of the Golden Flower is too beautiful to hate, but it is really boring. I feel the same way about Raise the Red Lantern.

        October 24, 2012 at 5:15 am |
  43. frosty


    April 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  44. Salam

    Dude!!! It's better to invest in therapy

    April 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
    • Joan

      Posted on I'd stick with the novels over the coicms for right now; the first book is Rogue Squadron, then Wedge's Gambit, the Krytos Trap and the Bacta War. It's a big, long arc story that leads to a big development in the Galactic Civil War and does some good character work on the background pilots in the movies: Wedge, Hobbie, Janson and Tycho. It's really pulpy and fun and has awesome bantery dialogue.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply

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