Can’t Loose Weight? Get a Robot Coach

You say you’ve tried every diet fad but still can’t lose the flab. Maybe your will is as soft as your one-pack. Perhaps only the merciless resolve of an inhuman coach can whip you into shape.

Lucky for you, a Hong Kong-based start-up is preparing to release Autom, a robot diet mentor with a deceptively pleasant demeanor.

Users can talk with the 15-inch-tall Autom and, by using its LCD touch screen, indicate what they’ve had to eat and how long they’ve exercised on a given day. The machine, which is linked to the Internet, is designed to automatically keep track of calories and weight loss progress. It also tries to look cute by batting its eyelashes.

Cory Kidd, an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and developer of Autom, said his company, Intuitive Automata, is preparing to launch Autom in the United States at the end of the year.

According to a report in The Standard, Autom’s price will start at $400, a lot more than that of the Wii Fit, and according to a Plastic Pals interview with Kidd, a monthly fee will also be part of the package.

Kidd said more than 80 million people are trying to diet in the States, according to the Standard report, but they stick to their latest diet for an average of only three weeks. A study by Kidd comparing 45 dieters in the Boston area, keeping track of their calories and exercise either by computer, on paper, or with Autom, found that the robot helped people stick to their regimen for nearly twice as long as the other tracking methods.

The bot’s ability to engage users, as well as its embodied form, makes all the difference, Kidd explained. Some people in the study tried to humanize the droid by dressing it up and giving it names (Intuitive uses female pronouns in reference to Autom). A key factor in its success or failure will be whether users will continue to interact with it after the novelty wears off.

Autom may well be a great coach, if it had the ability to give diet cheaters a nasty guilt trip. Or perhaps access to food in the fridge could be under Autom’s control. Better yet, incorporate Autom into the fridge itself! Now that would make you think twice about those midnight sandwiches.

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