It shakes, it shivers, it…I'm not sure what else it does. Designed by University of British Columbia's Anna Flagg and Karon MacLean, Cuddlebot is a suspiciously fluffy machine that recognizes and responds to physical contact.
The Cuddlebot is an attempt at exploring the role affective touch plays in the social interaction between humans and robots, and it's actually the pair's second attempt at such a project. The original project, which was called the Haptic Creature, bore an uncanny resemblance to an eyeless mouse and could express "emotion" through ear stiffness, modulated breathing and vibrotactile purring.
Though it might initially resemble little more than a stretch of brown fur—or a certain fictional furball with a penchant for reproduction—the Cuddlebot sports some intriguing technology under the hood. Aside from having a "low-cost, low-tech touch sensor," Cuddlebot has conductive threads sewn into its fur that create a weak circuit: When someone moves a hand through the fur, the motion changes the resistance in circuit, which lets the Cuddlebot analyze and interpret the gesture.
The ultimate goal of this project? To design "more emotional, potentially therapeutic machines" capable of helping people feel better. And while it's a thoroughly noble goal, I can't help but feel leery of a future where people might whip out living mats of fur to stroke in moments of stress.