Researchers demonstrate a prototype massage therapist robot equipped with five fingers. (Takashi Miyazawa)

TOYOHASHI, Aichi Prefecture--Feeling stressed out because your favorite massage therapist is fully booked until next week?

Not to worry, help could soon be at hand ... in the form of a five-fingered robot with all the right moves.

A health appliance manufacturer in Tokyo teamed up with researchers at a university in Aichi Prefecture to build a prototype which mimics the movements of a human hand.

The next goal is to develop a program with artificial intelligence technology (AI) to ensure the device functions like an experienced acupressure therapist.

“We hope to make our robot a caring therapist who can follow a patient’s moves and provide the best treatment,” said Ryosuke Tasaki, an assistant professor of robot engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology.

The project team comprises engineers from Tokyo-based Riccoh Co. and the university, which is located south of Nagoya and known for its robotic control research.

The prototype, unveiled at the university on Nov. 20, has a “thumb” that presses down to alleviate tired muscle knots, while the other four “fingers,” each with three joints, are able to hold parts of the body that require massaging.

The hand is connected to a movable arm, which allows its camera-controlled sensors to locate a patient’s shoulder and back to apply soothing massage techniques.

The prototype is capable of moving to a designated part of a patient’s body, where the thumb applies fingertip pressure to affected areas.

“We need to develop a robot with five fingers if we want to provide an experience as close to a real massage by a human therapist,” said Atsuo Honna, director in charge of research and development at Riccoh, who leads the project.

Tasaki, who is in charge of software development with his students, said: “We have created hardware that can provide a full-body treatment by itself. The next step is to have the robot learn from digitized data accumulated from veteran massage therapists.”