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Can A Robot Really Replace Massage Therapists?

A terrifying robotic massage therapist is coming to take our jobs! This summer, Singapore-based start up company AiTreat unveiled a robotic massage arm designed to carry out massage therapy on human patients. The robot, named Emma (Expert Manipulative Massage Automation to give it its full name), is being tested with real patients at the Kallang Wave Mall in Singapore. In its first week it treated over 50 patients including a couple of well-known athletes.

As Albert Zhang of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, creator of Emma, says: “It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear”. Oh wait, that was the Terminator. He actually claims it “uses a 3D stereoscopic camera and custom-made 3D-printed massage tip on its robotic arm to deliver high-quality therapy”. Sounds pretty good, I guess.

We can certainly see the benefits – the arm is more articulated than ours are, and could probably adjust and maintain pressure more finely. Plus it would never get tired. But we can’t see how the sensors would be sensitive or sophisticated enough to detect tiny flinches which might indicate sensitivity, or deal with any kind of feedback. AiTreat even claim that sensors and diagnostics can measure muscle and tendon stiffness – we would love to know how. At least it does advertise “several safety features which work in tandem with advanced pressure sensors to ensure the comfort and the safety of its patients”. Not particularly reassuring.

If anyone at AiTreat wants to arrange a 'massage-off' in London, pitting our therapists against Emma, we would be up for the challenge! Just need a few volunteers for Emma - would you trust a robot with your spine? No, us neither. But we would say that, we’ll be out of a job soon. All hail our new robot overlords.

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