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May 3, 2011 / Dr. Toad

What’s wrong with a kissing robot?

Back in the days of yore (1999) when I first showed up at MIT, a friend of mine worked in the Media Lab and showed me a rather, well, touching research project called inTouch. It was a pair of wooden rollers that connected wirelessly. Roll your hand gently (or vigorously) over one and your far-away friend, provided she happens to have her hand on top of the other, will feel your touch through the warm medium of wood.

Years later (2006), not satisfied with what was sure to be the next big thing in communications, another Media Lab group produced the Tug and Talk device — something you wear on your belly. Tug on it and your partner experiences a tug on his shirt, even if you’re miles apart. The classy belt buckle hiding the device was made out of copper “using traditional metalsmithing techniques”.

Lovely, almost quaint, quite adorable really.

And now that we’re in another decade, a group from the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have come up with this: a kiss transmission machine. And it hurts me to even think about it. Because it’s icky, of course, because the necessary technology was developed twelve years ago in the US, and because a device for “communicating with the mouth” is such an easy joke target. But also because it’s an ugly plastic thing that you’re supposed to put in your mouth and feel like you’re being kissed by someone you love?

What’s especially sad is that the Japanese have a proud tradition of cute and excellent design in robotics, and it’s nowhere to be seen in this tasteless project. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would find it any more compelling had it been made of metal, wood or glass. I suppose lubricated leather would give a more realistic effect. Oh my, now I can’t unthink that.

In any case, I hope they wipe this thing down with alcohol after every use.

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