Moflin: AI Hassle-Free Pet That Learns to Love You

A robot pet presented at CES 2021. It can evaluate its surroundings and develop its own personality

Vinicius Monteiro
Jan 13 · 3 min read
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Image credit: Vanguard Industries

I love dogs or cats, or any pet in general, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting one. Especially since my son was born. He’s two-year-old now, and it would be great fun to have an animal around the house.

But then reality hits me (and so does my wife) — a toddler to mind due to daycare being close (pandemic), 9–5 work and other things. I have enough on my plate. It’s also a hassle when you have to travel. I live abroad and visit my hometown every year. So no, not for now.

What about a robot, though?!

Moflin is an AI robot pet presented at CES 2021. It’s a charming little creature with its own personality depending on how their owners treat them. It can be anxious, excited, happy and more — like a real pet.

It has microphones and built-in sensors such as accelerometers with gyroscopes and touch sensors to evaluate its surroundings. It comes with Bluetooth and an app for iOS and Android. It’s the complete package.

An AI Pet Robot with Emotional Capabilities

Cost and delivery date

Vanguard Industries, the company that builts it, aims to deliver the first one in March. You can get it by pledging $400 (about €330) on Kickstarter and expect to receive by June 2021.

That’s not cheap, of course. But definitely less than what is spent on a real pet through the course of its life.

Anthropomorphism towards robots

Anthropomorphism is when humans attribute human traits to non-human entities. It can be a real animal or even a teddy bear, for example. Young children have a stronger psychological disposition to it.

We tend more to develop a more social interaction when the object has human-like characteristics. The gestures, sound, gaze similar to us can make it feel more “familiar, explainable or predictable”.

I confess I feel a bit confused every time I see or hear a human-like robot. Not so much for animal-like such as Moflin. Imagine a robot saying “thank you” or “sorry”. That happened to me with a telemarketing bot that spoke to me on the phone a few times.

My instant reaction is to view it as a human and treat it as such — I would probably say, “you’re welcome” or “no, it’s OK”. But then I’d remember that I’m talking to someone that really has no emotion — “what am I doing”?! It feels like it makes no sense to say something to that person. I mean, entity.

There is a theory formulated by Mashiro Mori, in 1970, called “uncanny valley” [2]

It describes people’s reactions to technologies that resemble a human too close while still not being one. Mori hypothesized that a person’s response to a humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike appearance

I agree with it. I think it can happen.

On the other hand, I believe these social interactions slowly being introduced can prepare us for an inevitable future of more robots around us. I also think being polite and treating them as a real person can be used to practice empathy. I’ve been trying to be nicer and say things like “please” or “ thank you” to Alexa. Although sometimes I get mad (putting it lightly) for not understanding my accent. The same one I use to talk to her every day!

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Vinicius Monteiro

Written by

Software Engineer working mainly with Java / Spring Boot. Other fields of interest are Machine Learning and Writing. Twitter: @vinidsmonteiro

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