April 27, 2012 at 3:09 PM ET
If you find yourself hugging a pillow to fill the void of an absentee loved one, consider giving the Hugvie a go. It’s a huggable, vibrating, person-shaped cushion with a slot for a cellphone that’s designed to add a form of physical contact with the person on the other end of the call.
The cushion has a microcontroller and two vibrators that act in concert to “match the characteristics of the callers voice, so that people can have a richer communication experience,” video news site DigInfo explains.
Hugvie is based on the Telenoid robot developed by Osaka University’s Hiroshi Ishiguro.
"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," Ishiguro told DigInfo.
In theory, the cushion could provide an extra layer of security and comfort to elderly people talking to their caregivers or a child speaking with a parent out of town on business.
Future versions could include interactivity between Hugvies so that lovers in a long distance relationship could each be holding one as they chat and feel like they are physically together.
“We could build in lots of vibrators and special sensors, so that when you hug it, the other person’s robot moves as well,” Ishiguro explains.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.