Regular readers will no doubt recall the Telenoid R1, the tactile doll shaped like a giant human foetus that when controlled via remote computer almost appears to be alive. Using this intriguing yet somewhat disturbing technology, creator and Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro went on to produce Hugvie, a soft, pared-down version of the doll that has a slot for a smartphone in its head, enabling users to cuddle and chat at once while the doll’s internal vibrators simulate the caller’s heartbeat based on their tone and the volume of their voice.
As fun and quirky as the pillow was, few ever thought it could be beneficial to users’ health, but recent research suggests that cuddling up with one of these blobs while chatting on the phone could actually help reduce stress and make us feel more content.
Looking somewhat like the escaping soul of a cartoon character, Hugvie measures in at approximately 85cm long and 36cm wide and is available in a variety of colours. They dolls are easily transportable and could sit fairly inconspicuously on a bed or couch among other dolls or stuffed toys, but on the inside there’s a lot more going on.
Here’s a video detailing the product’s launch event last year, in which we can see how virtually any smartphone can be easily inserted into the “head” portion of the huggable blob, with the user then pressing their own head comfortably against it.
Although mainly marketed at young children and couples, this simple doll may actually be worth any of us picking up if collaborative research between the University of Sussex and Osaka University is to be believed. Their findings suggests that, much like embracing a real person, hugging Hugvie can help reduce stress and make us feel more at ease.
After having blood and saliva samples taken, participants were put into two groups: one who held conversations by mobile phone alone and the other using a phone slipped inside a Hugvie cushion. Following the conversations, further samples were taken, analysed and the results compared.
Researchers noted that levels of cortisol – a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and often referred to as the “stress hormone” due to its increased presence in the bloodstream during “fight or flight” responses – in the blood of those in the Hugvie group were significantly lower, suggesting that embracing the doll had a genuinely positive effect on participants.
Of course, people have been clinging to dolls, blankets and stuffed toys for comfort for centuries now, so it should come as little surprise that the simple act of hugging should help reduce levels of the hormone. Even so, for couples unable to hug in the flesh, a device that simulates your partner’s heartbeat while you enjoy a little chat and cuddle time could never be considered a bad thing, and if it happens to help us reduce our stress levels and maybe hold on to our hair for a few more years we’re down to give it a go!
Hugvie currently retails for around 3,990 yen (US$41) and is available from robot specialists Vstone and Rakuten. Why not give it a go if you’re feeling the pressure and living away from your loved ones?