The Sony patent describes the robot as a “feeling deduction unit,” but in plain speak, it looks like Sony is tinkering with another companion bot that can empathise and build long-term relationships. I mean, look at this guy. While patent drawings can be crude, the cloud-like silhouette clearly indicates a cuddly texture. And while it has no mouth, the eyes are just big and stupid enough that I involuntarily let out an ‘aww’ at first sight. Plus, when have you ever known a Japanese company to utterly fail at making something cute and loveable?
The robot would supposedly use microphones, biometric and motion sensors, motors, and cameras to analyse a person’s emotions and behaviours, and then react accordingly. The patent says the robot could potentially identify various emotions such as joy, anger, love, and surprise based on how you react to content or even the robot itself. For instance, according to the patent, if you take your dandy time charging the robot after it’s notified you, the robot will take that to mean that you don’t love it and that in turn may result in the robot being less likely to cheer you on when you play games. That also applies to if you kick the robot as opposed to petting it, or tell it to be quiet when it interacts with you. Though, why would anyone be so mean???
For the most part, the patent outlines the robot as a viewing buddy—meaning a friend who actually likes watching you play solo games; one that will cheer your successes and groan with you when you mess up. It does leave some room though, however, for watching television shows and movies. Basically, the idea Sony is working off of is that people enjoy viewing things with someone else—be it human or bot—over watching something alone.
That tracks overall with Japanese companies’ approach to robotics, which tends to focus heavily on building relationships. Sony’s patent is very much reminiscent to other social bots like Paro, that weird cat robot Qoobo, and the cute-but-somehow-soulless Lovot. Granted, this is just a patent so who knows if Sony will ever really bring it to market—especially since companion bots haven’t seen much success with consumers. Still, compared to Boston Dynamics’ nightmare machines, I’ll take a somewhat shapeless muppet that just wants to chill and applaud my fishing prowess in Animal Crossing.