'Last Moment' Robot Sits by Deathbed
The Last Moment Robot exhibit raises questions about robots providing comfort to humans on their deathbed, or in any other scenario.
CREDIT: Dan Chen
Would you want to die in bed with robot stroking your arm in your last moments? That's the bizarre scenario raised by an interactive art installation called "Last Moment Hospital."
Anyone who wants to experience robotic comfort must lie down in a hospital-like room with a single fluorescent light and the "Last Moment Robot" sitting by the beside. The robot consists of a padded appendage to caress the person's arm and a prerecorded message spoken in a robotic female voice. The first news reports about the project came from CNET.
"I am here to help you and guide you through your last moment on earth," Last Moment Robot says. "I am sorry that (pause) your family and friends can't be with you right now, but don't be afraid. I am here to comfort you."
The experience represents the master's thesis of Dan Chen — an artist who received his degree in Digital + Media at the Rhode Island School of Design. He came up with the idea after seeing the success of the robotic seal Paro in comforting Alzheimer patients in Japan. (To be clear, this is an art project and not intended for commercial sale.)
"While it's efficient and proven effective, I question the quality of intimacy, human isolation and challenge the form factor of Paro," Chen wrote on his website.
The Last Moment Robot is designed to provoke second thoughts about whether robots can truly deliver an emotionally comforting experience for humans under extreme conditions. It strokes the person's arm and talks about the love of family and friends who will miss him or her after death, before ending the experience by reading out a time of death.
The Last Moment Robot's voice may remind some gamers of the cheerfully homicidal GlaDOS from the popular "Portal" series, but otherwise does not enter the creepy territory of the "uncanny valley" because it lacks any realistically human trait. Instead, any sense of unease may come from the robot's obvious machine appearance giving the impression of clinical detachment.
Perhaps the scariest thought triggered by Last Moment robot does not even have much to do with the robot's presence — it has more to do with the concept of dying in the sterile surroundings of a hospital without human family or friends to wait out the last moments. But that, unfortunately, is a familiar modern concept rather than a futuristic nightmare.