A Japanese startup has invented a robotic telepresence teddy bear that can broadcast your body movements and gestures using virtual reality to offer hugs and comfort to loved ones who are far away. The teddy bear, designed by two-man startup Adawarp, is controlled using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. When you put on the headset, the software maps your head movements in real time and allows you to peer out through the bear's eyes, and you can move the bear's arms with an Xbox controller.
You can talk to the person with the bear, who will hear your voice coming through a speaker built into the bear's head and see the gestures, while a microphone in the bear picks up what your loved one says and broadcasts it back to you.
Adawarp co-founder Tatsuki Adaniya told MIT Technology Review that he had the idea for the robotic teddy bear after a failed long-distance relationship, which got him thinking about how he could have improved communication with his ex-girlfriend.
It's still early days, but Adawarp has just been through the River startup incubator, which focuses on virtual reality startups and invests at least $200,000 (£130,566), and Adaniya hopes to ship the first version of the robot teddy bear with a plain plastic body by the end of 2016.
The idea is for hardware developers to use the plain plastic robot and design their own bodies for it, and then the consumer robot will be released and will hopefully come in different furry animal types, such as dogs and cats.
Adaniya sees his solution as a futuristic way for parents and family members to keep in contact across the distance and offer the humanising touch that a webcam video chat can't give. He is also planning a version of the teddy bear that doesn't need a virtual-reality headset, and instead makes the bear's head movement by panning a smartphone around.
"We're broadcasting human body language," Adaniya said. "The impression of the word 'robot' is scary and big – I don't want to feel like this is a robot. I want to feel this is an animal, or a new spirit."