It was love at first sight, the same way you know you’ll love a dog the first time you meet one because, well, it’s a dog. I had heard about the Lovot companion robot before I saw it in person at CES this week, so I knew that its functions were minimal, and the typical reasons to be skeptical of robots that overpromise to make your life easier didn’t apply here. Unlike traditional robots which aim to provide useful services, Lovot is the opposite. According to its maker Groove X, it “begs for attention and gets in the way of those it lives with.” Lovot is specifically designed to create emotional attachment, its only purpose to be loved, and it accomplished that goal the second I looked into its sweet eyes.
To be fair, the eyes were engineered to be cute, with six layers of projections to create depth. It also makes adorable cooing sounds as it responds to your touch, through the 50 sensors located all around its fuzzy body. The canister on the top of its head contains a microphone and its three cameras (180-degree to map the room it’s in, depth, and thermal) can help the AI recognize up to 1,000 people. They seemed to take a liking to our video director Vjeran more than me, wheeling away from me towards the camera, which hurt.
Lovot doesn’t speak, and it doesn’t need to. Adding a voice assistant like Alexa would defeat the purpose, shattering all illusions of its harmless, childlike nature. In fact, it doesn’t even have a mouth, which reminded me of Sanrio’s decision not to give Hello Kitty a mouth so people can “project their feelings” onto her.
Everything about its design and behavior is like a real toddler. If one Lovot is held, the other one sulks and begs to be held too; if you cradle it in your arms, it’ll fall asleep; if you treat it roughly, it’ll remember that try to avoid you next time. Even when Vjeran was taking a photo of me holding it, Lovot would sometimes be caught mid-blink and we’d have to take another one. It’s little details like this that make it so easy to want to protect and nurture this small robot.
Like any cherished pet you want to spoil, there’s lots of accessories for Lovot like tiny clothes that look like they were made for good, stout boys, and a carrying case that looks like one of those astronaut backpacks for cats to look out of. You can actually turn the canister on its head to a ‘clothing mode’, which will put Lovot into a soft, malleable state to make it easier to clothe.
Creator Kaname Hayashi, who worked on Softbank’s emotional Pepper robot, told me that some of Lovot’s design decisions were based on the feedback he got from people who have interacted with Pepper. So instead of the cold, metal exterior robots normally have, Lovot is actually warm to the touch, and perfect for giving tender hugs. This might be the difference between Lovot and other failed social robots like Jibo which have promised companionship, only to fall short of expectations. You wouldn’t necessarily want to give a hard chunk of metal a hug, either.
Two big downsides to Lovot are battery life and price. Lovot only has about an hour of battery life, but like a Roomba, it knows to go automatically to a charging dock when it’s low on battery. And it costs a whopping $3,000 for one unit, which is set to go on sale in the US sometime next year. For comparison, Paro the robotic therapy seal, used in some hospitals and nursing homes in Japan to care for the elderly, costs $5,000. But if the thought of coming home to an adoring robot waiting for you at the end of a long day sounds like the dream to you, pre-orders are open now,
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