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Meet Xian’er, a Robotic Monk Designed to Teach People About Buddhism

Buddhism is about 2500 years old, but the religion seems to be adapting quite well to the modern era. The Longquan temple on the outskirts of Beijing has implemented a new recruit in the form of a robotic monk named Xian’er.

The bot is two feet tall, wears yellow "robes," sports a bald head, and carries a small touch screen on its chest. It can chant mantras, answer 20 questions about the faith, and moves in seven different ways through voice command. The temple hopes Xian’er can serve as a new way to connect with current and prospective Buddhists who are more accustomed than ever before to interacting with devices.

While Xian’er might seem incongruous with spiritual practice, creator and Longquan monk Master Xianfian, told Reuters, “Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible."

Xian’er was inspired by a character from Xianfan's 2013 cartoon series, Trouble, You Seek for Yourself. The temple has produced books and merchandise featuring the robo-monk, all in an effort to marry Buddhist philosophy with current culture. The robot was developed by a tech company and artificial intelligence experts from a few of China’s top universities, and while Xian’er was just unveiled in October, a new model with even more functionality is already being developed.

International Business Times reports that Xian’er has 300,000 followers on Chinese social media site Weibo, and while that might indicate a certain amount of celebrity clout, the robot reportedly spends much of his days "meditating" in the temple’s office.

To see more of Xian’er, check out the video from Vocativ above.

[h/t Vocativ]

Banner image via Vocativ // YouTube.

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JEKCA
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Animals
Build Your Own Cat With These LEGO-Like Blocks
JEKCA
JEKCA

It’s one thing to commission a custom portrait of your pet, but it’s quite another to build a life-size sculpture of them yourself with more than a thousand LEGO-like bricks. That’s exactly what you can do with the cat sculptures made by the Hong Kong-based toy-brick-makers at JEKCA (“building blocks for kidults,” as the company describes itself).

The pet sculptures, which we spotted over on Bored Panda, come in the shape of various breeds and colors that allow you to choose one that looks uncannily like your own pet. As long as your cat looks like a typical orange tabby or tuxedo shorthair, Siamese, Persian, or other garden variety cat, at least. They come in different colors and are available in multiple positions, whether it’s sitting, walking, pouncing, or playing.

Made of more than 1200 individual bricks each, the cat sculptures run about a foot tall, and between about half a foot and a foot long, depending on whether they’re sitting, standing on their hind legs, or walking. They come with instructions for assembly and can be taken apart and built again as many times as you want. But you don’t have to worry about them falling apart, according to JEKCA, since the blocks are secured by screws. “These cats are like real sculptures and will not collapse or break apart,” the company writes on its Facebook.

Six different calico cat sculptures in different positions
JEKCA

You could build one that looks exactly like your cat or adopt one of the brick animals as a pet itself. Buy a whole team of them, and it’ll look like your house is overrun with a cat gang—minus the extreme litter box cleaning that comes with being a traditional crazy cat lady.

The cat sculptures cost between $60 and $90, plus shipping, depending on the size of the kit and how many bricks it requires. You can see them all here. If cats aren’t your favorite pet, the company also makes dogs, birds, and other animals as well. Although, sadly, unlike their domestic pets, their dolphins and deer don’t come in life-size versions.

[h/t Bored Panda]

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Aflac
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technology
Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer
Aflac
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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