Talking Robot Helps People to Lose Weight

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Massachusetts researchers have developed a robot that teaches people how to lose weight, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The robot, named Autom, is programmed to talk to users about their exercise and diet routines. Cory Kidd, co-founder and chief executive of Intuitive Automata Inc., built the first incarnation of Autom by hand while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab and seeing patients at Boston Medical Center's clinic.

Kidd, 32, saw an opportunity to create "something that could be a very large benefit," he said.Intuitive Automata, selected as a finalist in the Asian Innovation Awards, is targeting the U.S. market for Autom's launch next year, where she will be tested in a pilot program with a major insurance company.

Dieters start off with Autom by entering the details of their diet and exercise into the robot. She sits on a countertop and is programmed to hold daily "conversations" with the user.

"I know this setup with talking to me might be a little strange, but I hope that you'll get used to it," she says.

Users can tap "Thanks," "OK" or "Let's move on" on the robot's screen, which responds in turn based on the selection.

Intuitive Automata's research has shown that users stick with Autom's programs, which provide feedback and encouragement, longer than most diets — even after the novelty of using a robot wears off, Kidd said.

Autom also uses social cues to seem more lifelike, a big psychological difference from working with a static computer screen.

She blinks her eyes, turns to look at who she's talking to, and ends conversations by saying, "I hope we can talk again about your progress," in a female voice.

Her programmers are studying ways to enhance her speech and facial-recognition software. Now she can find a face, but in the future she will be able to tell faces apart.

Click here to read more from the Wall Street Journal.