A robot ‘preacher’ that beams lights from its hands and can give automated blessings to the faithful has been launched in the town that gave fame to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
Five hundred years after Luther published the Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, kicking off the Reformation, an evangelical church launched a unique automated blessing robot for the special celebrations in the historic town located in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The robot on show in the old town of Wittenberg is called “BlessU-2” and was developed by the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau.
It consists of a metal box with a touch screen, two arms on the side, a head with eyes and a digital mouth at the top.
After the robot wishes users a “warm welcome”, it asks them if they want to be blessed by a male or female voice.
It then asks the believer “what blessing do you want”, which results in the robot making a mechanical sound as it raises its arms to the heavens and starts to smile.
Lights then start to flash in the robot’s arms as it says “God bless and protect you” and recites a biblical verse.
After the blessing, the user has the possibility to print the dictum.
Church spokesman Sebastian von Gehren said: “It is an experiment that is supposed to inspire discussion.”
Von Gehren explained that they consciously decided against a typical human appearance.
He said that the reactions vary wildly. “One half thinks it’s great” while “the other cannot imagine a blessing from a machine.”
Remarkably, von Gehren said that people who have little in common with the church are particularly attracted to the robot, with many people “now coming every morning and evening.”
Brunhilde Hoeltz-Mettang, a visitor to the church celebrations in Wittenberg, said the robot was “interesting and courageous” even though it lacked the human touch.
She said: “We have to think of new ways, beyond our core communities.”
Yet 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, the robot priest will not replace humans any time soon.
Von Gehren said: “The machine should not replace the blessing of a pastor. In the future there will not be a blessing robot in every church.”