With steely arms sprouting cables and wires, the WAO-1 robot looks nothing like a relaxation device.
But researchers at Tokyo's Waseda University hope the contraption will soon be deployed to hospitals and spas across Japan to give therapeutic facial massages.
The WAO-1 robot, which stands for Waseda Asahi Oral Rehabilitation Robot 1, is being developed initially for patients with jaw-related medical problems who require facial massages as part of their treatment, according to project leader Atsuo Takanishi.
The robot's arms are fitted with ceramic spheres the size of golf balls, and the spheres roll over the skin.
The arms' movements are controlled by a complex set of algorithms designed to emulate massages, while six sensors at the base of the arms measure and adjust the pressure applied by the spheres, Takanishi said.
The technology has to be more refined than those in electric massage chairs because the facial bone structure is much more fragile than back or spine bones, he said.
Another research team member, Ken Nishimura, said the robot could be adjusted to give beauty and relaxation massages.
"This technology can be applied very widely," Nishimura said. "I'm looking forward to a time when this robot will give beauty facials at spas."
The team is set to start clinical trials using the robot in November, according to Takanishi. The robot, developed with Japan's Asahi University, must be approved by a government safety panel before it becomes available to hospitals or to the public.
Japan is a leader in consumer robots. A robot that gives shampoos is already widely deployed at hair salons across Japan.