'BlessU-2' robot priest in Germany marks 500 years since the Reformation
The Protestant Church in Germany has unveiled a robot priest called BlessU-2 as part of the celebrations marking 500 years since the Reformation.
The robot preacher can be found in Wittenburg, Germany and was developed by the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau.
BlessU-2 is also known as the 'segensroboter', meaning 'blessing robot'.
It greets those who approach it and delivers blessings in up to five different languages, German, English, French, Spanish and Polish, in addition to their choice for a male or female voice.
BlessU-2 then offers 31 blessings to choose from its four categories. Once a blessings has been requested, the prayer begins.
The robot's head functions moving eyebrows and a digital mouth that can alternate in between severe and smiling. After raising its arm, lights embedded in the robot hands turn on, shining towards the user whilst the digital mouth recites a New Testament biblical verse.
The robot then offers a print out for the person to take home.
The robot pastor will not replace pastoral care, but the people behind the creation want to begin a conversation about how machines could be part of religious life.
'We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,' said Stephan Krebs of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau, which developed the robot.
He told the Guardian about the reactions from people both in and out of church.
'The idea is to provoke debate,' said Krebs. 'People from the street are curious, amused and interested. They are really taken with it, and are very positive. But inside the church some people think we want to replace human pastors with machines. Those that are church-oriented are more critical.
'We don't want to robotize our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine.'
While BlessU-2 may have taken people by surprise and is the first ever robot to bless Christians, it isn't the first time that artificial intelligence from robots and religious beliefs have come together.
In 2015, a Buddhist temple in Beijing developed a robot monk called the Buddhabot, who could chant mantras and explain basic tenets of faith. In 2013, a humanoid robot called Isaac helped to light a public San Francisco menorah on the seventh night of Hanukkah.
Master Xiafian, a monk at Xianer;s creator, said artificial intelligence from Robots could be harnessed to spread Buddhist wisdom in China.
'Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible,' he told Reuters.
You can see BlessU-2 in action in the video below.