Robotic approach to weight loss

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 September, 2010, 12:00am

Forget fad diets and expensive gym memberships, the next weight-loss tool is set to be a 27cm tall female robot called Autom.

She talks to you like an old friend, blinks when she's awake and she will even look you in the eye when she says hello, according to Dr Cory Kidd, co-founder and head of Intuitive Automata, a start-up based at the Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin and the maker of Autom.

'She's a weight-loss coach that has daily conversations with the user,' Kidd said. 'It's like a personal coach or trainer at home and no two conversations are alike.'

Kidd, who has spent more than a decade studying human-robot interaction and developing products for the health-care sector, said Autom was a combination of robotics, artificial intelligence and psychology.

Social robots were different from other robots because they 'understand something about human behaviour', he said.

The robot talks to the user for about five minutes each day, asking the user about what they ate and how much they exercised. It calculates his or her daily calorie intake by referring to a database of 15,000 foods and over time, the robot develops a relationship with the user based on the information it receives.

Kidd said most people gave up on a diet after three-and-a-half weeks so the robot was designed to increase this period based on its novelty factor and its interactive features.

'Nothing quite like this has been created before,' Kidd said.

Over the past three years, his company has spent about US$750,000 on research and development and it was looking to raise US$5million from investors. A European investor had already signed up, but the company was yet to hear from Hong Kong investors.

The talking robot is expected to hit shop shelves in the US next year, selling for about US$500 each. No date has been set for a Hong Kong release.