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A sweet Japanese robot aims to change your feels

The furry little machine that generates feelings.
The furry little machine that generates feelings.
Image: Groove X
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We worry a lot about robots taking over our jobs, but give much less thought to them coopting the roles of our dogs. That is what a cute new Japanese creation, called Lovot, may yet do.

Lovot—portmanteau of love and robot (in case you missed it)—is created by Groove X, a company that in its own words, “is aiming for robotics to tap latent human potential.” The machine is not practical in the traditional sense and isn’t meant to be. It doesn’t clean or organize or do tasks. “This robot won’t do any of your work,” as its creator, Kaname Hayashi, told Bloomberg (paywall). ”In fact, it might just get in the way.”

However, Lovot is built to offer something we all need—affection. The machine responds to emotions and actions and, according to the company, “stirs your instinct to love.”

Standing 16 inches tall, the robot is responsive to sounds, temperature, and how it’s treated. Lovot chirps like a bird and meows like a cat and is basically like a pet without the mess. Imagine felines with no litter box or dogs you don’t have to walk—but not alive of course—and you’ve got the idea behind this feels machine that feeds on “love.”

Groove X says that the smart doll, which is not preprogrammed, uses deep learning technology to register behavior and respond accordingly. Kick it and the Lovot will shirk you. Tickle it and the machine will giggle. Cuddle with the robot and it will continually seek you out.

The big-eyed, round-faced, two-wheeled machine has a voice, an antenna atop its head, and 50 sensors. Its eyes light up six different ways, based on interactions, and it’s warm, giving the impression of a living thing. Notably, it also weighs about as much as a baby at 6.6 pounds and is designed to promote “skinship,” a sense of connection through touch, like the one fostered between parents and young children.

This electronic doll is not cheap—indeed, it’s pricier than most computers. Pre-orders for the $3,000 Lovot began on Dec. 18 and the company’s selling them with $90 per month payment plans, plus an extra fee for a “care” plan. The Groove X website warns, “Since Lovot is packed with a lot of technology, repairing, checking, examining and changing parts may require complex work and therefore, be potentially expensive.”

Lovots are obviously not for everyone. But the concept is interesting. If this creation really does generate affection, it could be a step toward further transforming our relationships with machines. Just as people now speak seriously to Siri and Alexa about their problems, we may someday turn to tech to stir the feels we once believed only living things could provide.

Be warned, however, that like pets and people, these robots can be slightly monstrous. They get envious. Those sold in pairs will be programmed to “feel” connected to each other. When one gets a hug, the other demands love. As Groove X explains, “With love, sometimes comes jealousy. That’s right: furry, jealous little robots.”