If there’s one sure sign a creature isn’t of this world, but some other horrific realm, it’s a lack of a face. For the creators of the MeowEver, a cat-shaped pillow that simulates purring, a lack of a face is instead supposed to be an endearing trait, and encourage users to cuddle up with the bot, while pushing thoughts of their impending doom to the back of their minds.
Abstract forms of cats have been a popular source of inspiration for domestic bot builders, bringing us everything from Qoobo that looks like a throw cushion with a tale, Nicobo who will occasionally fart just like a real pet would, and the Flatcat, which might be a reincarnated version of roadkill. Even without limbs and paws to scratch you with or a face that can menacingly hiss, MeowEver might be the closest robotic facsimile of a real house cat yet: but one you never need to feed or clean up after.
The lack of a face makes MeowEver perpetually look like it’s sleeping with its face down, and that just about represents the extent of the robot’s capabilities. A rumble motor inside creates the effect of the animal breathing and gently purring as you stroke its back, while a microwaveable gel pack can be inserted so the simulated animal will radiate heat through its fur coat for almost an hour. It even weighs in at just over four pounds so it has the heft of a real cat, and provides a similar de-stressing experience as a weighted blanket would.
The creators of MeowEver are trying to bring it to market through a crowdfunding campaign on the Japanese website Makuake that’s already far surpassed its funding goal. It can be pre-ordered with a contribution of around $US80 ($103) and while that might seem expensive for what could easily be mistaken for a back massaging throw cushion, as far as passive robot companions go that’s at the cheaper end of the spectrum. (Some of the proceeds of every sale will be donated to animal rescue organisations in Japan.) For comparison, Sony’s re-released robot dog Aibo will set you back $US2,900 ($3,720) plus monthly subscription fees, and it’s far less conducive to cuddling.
Delivery for MeowEver is expected to be sometime in July of this year, but you’ll want to take that with a heaping tablespoon of salt because the pandemic is far from over and it continues to affect everything from microchip production to shipping. In this case, especially if you live outside of Japan, it might be best to hold out on this one until the crowdfunding campaign is over and MeowEver starts to appear on sites that export Japanese goods.