A ton of thought went into the clever device, which actually has some heartwarming goals.

Few things in life provide that special mixture of calm reassurance and energizing warmth like going for a long walk hand-in-hand with your sweetheart. But as a group of engineering researchers (Koshiro Shiraki, Toru Notsumata, Moeka Miki, and Takeru Mushika) from Japan’s Gifu University point out, “For some people, finding a girlfriend is very difficult.”

So the quartet set out to create a method for people to “experience holding your girlfriend’s hand more easily than by finding a girlfriend,” and the result is the robot shown in this video, called Osampo Kanojo (“Walk Girlfriend”), or, to use its designated English name, My Girlfriend in Walk.

At first glance, it might just look like a glove or mannequin forearm. Those wouldn’t provide your senses of touch, sound, and even smell with the enjoyable sensations of walking with a girlfriend, though, and so the Osampo Kanojo has no fewer than seven key design points.

1. The outer covering is made from soft and pliable gel, to recreate “the tenderness of a woman’s hand.”

2. Osampo Kanojo contains an internal pressure sensor, so that when you squeeze its palm, motors activate and the hand squeezes you back.

3. When walking with a girlfriend, your strides may not perfectly mesh for each and every step. To replicate this, the Osampo Kanojo is mounted on a track that runs perpendicular to your wrist. Walk too quickly, and motors will cause it to slide back, creating a rearward tugging sensation on your arm. While this might seem like an inconvenience, it helps create the sensation that you’re walking with someone who’s taking their own steps next to you, and not just carrying a piece of baggage.

4. Osampo Kanojo has an internal heater, so that warmth will radiate out from its palm and fingers.

5. A human hand isn’t dry like a chunk of plastic or mound of rubber. While a hand that’s slick with sweat would be unpleasant, a certain amount of moisture is needed for an organic feeling. To achieve that, a piece of moistened fabric is placed inside Osampo Kanojo, and when the heater is activated, it causes trace amounts of moisture to be secreted through small pores in the outer covering.

6. As discussed above, two people walking hand-in-hand won’t necessarily have identically timed footsteps, so Osampo Kanojo plays the sounds of your virtual girlfriend’s steps through your smartphone’s speaker, along with the sounds of her breathing and the gentle rustle of her clothing.

7. Last, we weren’t kidding when we mentioned that the designers have included something for your sense of smell. The cloth inside Osampo Kanojo is treated with a women’s shampoo fragrance, so that the subtle aroma of freshly washed hair will waft up from it when the cloth is heated.

The protype is designed as a stand-in for a woman’s hand, it seems like the system could easily be adapted to replicate a man’s hand with a more substantial outer coating and substitute fragrances, like cologne, barbeque charcoal, or motor oil. And while it’d be easy to write Osampo Kanojo off as yet another attempt to create a virtual girlfriend for those who’re afraid of trying to find a human one, the development team says one of their goals for the invention is for it to comfort those who’re living isolated lifestyles during the coronavirus pandemic. Another is to create an impetus for those working/attending classes from home to get regular exercise, and those are both admirable aspirations for the device.

Source: Virtual Reality Society of Japan via IT Media via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso
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