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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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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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Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Animals
Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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