Belgians develop cuddly robot to help sick children

BRUSSELS Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:55am EDT

1 of 6. Children pose with Probo, the 'intelligent huggable' robot, at the unveiling of the first prototype in Brussels, April 21, 2009. Probo was designed to interact with humans and will assist in providing information and moral support to hospitalized children.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Belgian scientists are developing a cuddly green robot to help ease the anxieties of children in hospital.

Probo the robot has a touchscreen on its stomach which is intended to explain operations to children. The robot also makes facial expressions intended to show how medical procedures will make the child feel.

"The main goal of this project is to have emotional communication with children," said Jelle Saldien, one of the researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels) design team at Probo's unveiling on Tuesday.

Probo is the brainchild of Ivan Hermans, president of the Anty Foundation, a non-profit organization set up to design the robot. He had the idea after seeing the film "I, Robot."

Probo's fuzzy green head and short trunk are fully automated and the touchscreen displays emotions from pleasure to disgust. The robot will also detect faces and make eye contact.

When hugged or petted it purrs, and when punched or squeezed it says ouch, but the robot cannot yet hug back.

After further improvements it will be made available for hospitals and research institutes. The costs of the project have not been announced.

(Writing by Sarah Luehrs; editing by Timothy Heritage and Paul Casciato)