Back before COVID-19, I used to love going to the massage therapist to have the knots and kinks worked out of my perpetually stiff back. Now, the idea of being locked in a room with a virtual stranger putting their hands all over me is kind of worrisome. Sure, there are mask and disinfection protocols, but a massage is about as up close and personal as you can get with someone that you aren’t dating – and social distancing isn’t possible.
While there are options like massage chairs and personal massagers, nothing really gets into sore muscles like a human hand or elbow. With that in mind, engineers have been working on a robotic massage system that could emulate that sort of touch without the worry of human-to-human contact in a closed space.
French company Capsix Robotics and researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK are simultaneously working on their own massage robots, each of which takes a similar approach. The Capsix robot uses a robotic arm along with sensors and a camera that guide it along the curves of a patient’s body. As it applies pressure, it follows guidelines that were provided by professional physiotherapists to ensure proper massage techniques are used.
The UK-developed system works with a KUKA LBR iiwa collaborative robot, which is a bit more compact and offers the ability to be programmed to carry out the exact movements you train it to perform. This approach might be more personalized but definitely doesn’t seem as clinically sound.
The Capsix system is clearly more ready for prime time than the university’s version, so I’m more likely to let the Capsix give me a deep tissue massage than the other robot. What do you think? Would you let a robot give you a massage if it meant you didn’t have to be exposed to another human in close quarters?