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New Way to Help Sick Kids Shows Promise

Imagine being a kid who spends countless hours getting poked and prodded in the hospital, the victim of an ailment no child should endure. Now imagine that the time spent during treatment was made a little less terrible with the distraction of a talking, interactive teddy bear?

That's what happened when Beatrice Lipp, a patient with a chronic condition who is treated at Boston Children's Hospital, met Huggable, a robotic teddy bear. The robot's creators are studying whether the toy can have therapeutic value for hospitalized youngsters.

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So is a robotic bear able to alleviate anxiety, pain and isolation for children who endure long and frequent hospital stays?

That is the hope of Dr. Peter Weinstock, the director of a training program at Boston Children's Hospital called the Simulator Program, and Cynthia Breazeal, the director of the personal robots group at MIT's Media Lab, as reported in the New York Times. The duo collaborated to bring Huggable, a social robot prototype developed at the lab, into the hospital, which is financing a 90-person study to determine whether the robot can have therapeutic value for kids stuck at the hospital for longer stints than normal.

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Huggable is essentially a high-tech puppet that can talk and play with patients while being controlled from a remote operator. For the continuing study, one-third of the children play with Huggable, another third interact with an image of it on a tablet and the rest are given a regular plush Teddy bear. All the children are recorded on video and wear a bracelet, called a Q Sensor, that measures their physiological changes.

As for her experience with Huggable, Lipp was delighted and didn't want it to end. Though she did have a couple critiques. One was that Huggable was a bit slow to respond, and the other was that the teddy couldn't close its eyelids, "making it hard to play peekaboo properly."

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Image via NYTimes

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