Recently, Justin and Roxane have been rolling mechanics in the rooms of a spa in the Eastern Townships. And for good reason, they are the very first robots to provide therapeutic massages in North America. Does the idea of ​​getting kneaded by an artificial intelligence guided steel arm intrigue you? La Presse tried the experiment.

They are very beautiful, these robots seeming to spring from an Asimov novel. But Roxane and Justin are only there for your good, “hired” as mechanical massage therapists earlier this year by Euro-Spa, a Saint-Ignace-de-Stanbridge establishment.

Designed by a French technology company, these two specimens were brought under the arm of Josef Bilher, owner of the spa. “I had been looking for a solution for two years so that I could continue to offer massages when a therapist cancels a session or is not available. I found this French start-up, we went to see them in Lyon, my wife tried the robot and I said to them: ‟I want two”, he says.

Mr. Bilher also points to the fact that some people can be uncomfortable under the hands and eyes of a therapist, for all sorts of reasons. “There may be a matter of embarrassment. Some may feel uncomfortable about being touched, others about nudity,” the owner explains, also raising the possibility of social anxiety from customers.

The beginning of the end for the human massage therapist? In the eyes of the owner, it is more of a complementary offer.

Now is the time to get your skin kneaded. In the room where the Justin robot sits, you first choose, accompanied by a supervisor, the parameters of your session on an interactive terminal: pressure, type of massage (Swedish, upper back, relaxing Californian, deep), musical ambiance…

Once undressed, you lie down on the heated table, you put your head in a “cushion-donut”, from where you can see a control monitor on which the progress of the session will be displayed. Within reach, a remote control allows you to raise or lower the intensity of the pressure.

Last step, the device performs a complete 3D optical scan of the client’s body to detect its morphology and adapt its movements. The massage can then begin. The funny articulated arm placed at our side comes to life, evoking industrial robots. At its end, not a hand, but rather a kind of hoof, wrapped in a medical silicone glove. The contact is both soft and frank, beginning the Swedish massage of medium intensity that we had selected.

Passing alternately on one side and the other of the spine, Justin lifts the muscles and kneads them with vigor and precision.

For the moment, it is able to work on the whole back, but Euro-Spa is collaborating in the development of the machine, so that it can take care of the legs, in particular.

Without a doubt, the experience, moreover very pleasant, remains quite different from the work of a human massage therapist. For example, feeling only one pressure point instead of the usual two hands is a bit confusing. Also, even if you can control the intensity of the massage during its execution, you cannot ask the robot to focus on a particular area or tell it where THE annoying node is. But overall, Justin and Roxane stick to what they’re asked to do: massage their backs, and they do well. We pushed the intensity to the maximum, which allowed us to act in depth without making us wince.

For customers who are a little shy or shy, this option is worth considering. But will those with robophobia trust these steel massagers? “It’s impossible for an accident to happen,” reassures Josef Bilher, who himself uses the machines twice a week.

It costs $85, plus taxes, for a session with one of the massage robots, spanning 45 minutes (about ten minutes of preparation and a big half-hour of massage). And if the question came to mind: no, Justin and Roxane are not authorized to provide a receipt for insurance.

Will these tools flourish in Quebec spas? Mr. Bilher says he has been contacted by a few colleagues, but that the investment tends to dampen enthusiasm. When asked how much that is for a single robot, the owner of Euro-Spa shows two fingers. $20,000? No, a zero must be added to this number. The robotic duo has been busy giving more than 400 massages since its inauguration. And you, would you dare to be crushed by a steel hand in a silicone glove?