FurFur: A Cool “Shared” Robot For Couples

In our digital age, many people sustain long distance relationships using digital media. For that matter, many digital experiences are inherently social, including social media and multiplayer games.

The emergence of haptic interfaces presents interesting new opportunities for this use case, which has only begun to be explored in personal relationships. There have been some suggestive notions of remote touching (e.g., [2]), remote interaction with pets (e.g., [3]), and the emerging technology of remote dildonics.

At the same time, there has been expanding interest in telepresence robots, which ultimately would combine with “affective” robots to project a remote emotional presence.

There are many challenges here, not least of which is how to create reasonable two way remote presence, and what sort of remote haptic interactions would people actually want to do.

Wei-Chi Chien and colleagues at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen (I had to look it up) have an interesting idea: Furfur.

Furfur is a shared robot pet, but one that has two incarnations, one for each person in a distant relationship. Furfur has one personality and one “life line”, but can interact with either of two people via the Internet. The simple rule that when I am playing with Furfur, you can’t interact or even see him (her? It?), and vice versa, creates a clever illusion that Furfur is teleporting back and forth between us. Cool!

The team also created some simple interactive patterns that sort of transmit comfortable touch and sounds. Either party can pet the Furfur, which enjoys the contact, and this joy is displayed to the other party. Furfur can also pass along what it hears from one to the other person.

The overall effect is quite striking: with just a few constraints, Furfur creates a sense of a single, shared pet across the distance.

This design utilizes a ‘joint action’ strategy to sustain the interpersonal relationship between the people. As the authors comment, this strategy is rarely used in the literature, but we can certainly see how effective it can be.

Very nice work!

Oh, and notice that there is no touch screen at all, inappropriate or otherwise!

  1. Wei-Chi Chien, Wei-Chi, Marc Hassenzahl, and Julika Welge, Sharing a Robotic Pet as a Maintenance Strategy for Romantic Couples in Long-Distance Relationships.: An Autobiographical Design Exploration, in Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2016, ACM: Santa Clara, California, USA. p. 1375-1382.
  2. Chung, Keywon, Carnaven Chiu, Xiao Xiao, and Pei-Yu Chi, Stress outsourced: a haptic social network via crowdsourcing, in CHI ’09 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2009, ACM: Boston, MA, USA. p. 2439-2448.
  3. Lee, Shang Ping, Adrian David Cheok, Teh Keng Soon James, Goh Pae Lyn Debra, Chio Wen Jie, Wang Chuang, and Garzam Farbiz, A Mobile Pet Wearable Computer and Mixed Reality System for Human-Poultry Interaction Through the Internet. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 10 (5):301-317, 2006.

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