Does a robotic pet have to look and behave exactly like a real dog or cat to entice its owners to interact with it? With the Aibo Sony seems to think so, but the creators of the flatcat disagree. First revealed a couple of months ago, the robotic roadkill is finally available for sale through Kickstarter, but like any pet, it doesn’t come cheap.
Anyone who lays eyes on Sony’s Aibo immediately recognizes it as a robotic pet dog. The company went to great lengths to not only make it look like a good boy with articulated legs, an animated tail, and expressive glowing eyes, but Aibo is also packed with sensors that make it behave and interact with people like a real dog would, including recognizing faces and spoken commands. Aibo is without a doubt the most advanced robotic pet ever created, but that’s reflected in a $2,900 price tag that doesn’t even include the monthly fees needed to actually use the robo-pup.
The flatcat comes at the problem of creating an interactive artificial creature from an entirely different angle. It’s still covered in fur to encourage humans to actually physically interact with it, but it looks more like a giant tapeworm that can roll itself up than a dog or a cat that can come bounding across the room. That obviously doesn’t sound as endearing as puppy dog eyes or a cat affectionately rubbing against your leg, but when left to its own devices the flatcat will start playing around on its own, rolling and contorting its body and generally doing weird but cute things like a puppy or kitten would as they learn to move around.
The robot can also respond to physical forces like the effects of gravity, friction, or encountering an immovable object based on the added resistance detected as its motors move. That also allows the flatcat to respond to being picked up and held, and while it will never purr, it still helps create the illusion that the robot is alive.
Back in February, it wasn’t known if the flatcat’s creators would ever make the pet available to consumers, but today the Jetpack Cognition Lab launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the robot. Not surprisingly the flatcat isn’t as cheap as something like the $250 Anki Vector, if you want to pre-order one with delivery expected as early as September, you’ll have to contribute almost $1,200 to the crowdfunding campaign’s modest $15,000+ funding goal.
As with any crowdfunded product, there’s always the risk of delays, particularly during an ongoing pandemic, and the risk of the flatcat never actually materializing, even if its funding goal is reached. Many have been burned by promising Kickstarter projects in the past, so proceed with caution, and a lot of patience, if you’re planning to adopt a flatcat into your family.