Feelin’ ain’t Easy

“This will make getting a cab easier.”
“This will make getting a pizza easier.”
“This will make getting a hotel easier.”
“This will make finding a date/partner/whatever easier.”

These are the promises of seemingly all new technology. For the most part “ease” is the guiding light.

The problem is that many studies over the past 20 years have shown that ease rarely leads to happiness — just more efficiency.

For example, marriage isn’t an easy relationship. Bringing up a child isn’t an easy responsibility. Being fulfilled with work isn’t easy. These things are challenging, yet they do seem to lead to that deep-down pleasure we all enjoy.

Apart from the effort these things require, each inadvertently puts us in a position of giving, helping, and being part of something bigger, and these are things that ultimately do bring happiness.

This was our thinking when we started the Needybot project. How can we use technology not to make something easier, but to make us feel better?

We made a piece of technology, a robot, that doesn’t make anything easier. What’s worse: this robot requires us to do all the things it can’t do on its own. Our thinking was that letting us humans be helpful might actually be quite fulfilling.

Needybot was brought to life on April 12 in Wieden+Kennedy’s Portland, Oregon, office. It has a cute voice, fur, and it can move on its own. It can recognize faces and remembers everyone it meets. It speaks, and is able to use Slack to tell us where it is. It is a collection of sensors, robotic platforms, 3-D printed parts, and software — all combined to provide Needybot with some essential tools.

Needybot was born with a single programmed mission: to meet all 600 people in our building. Needy will compliment you and ask about you, but then it needs your help meeting someone else. It will follow you, but it moves pretty slowly. It can’t use stairs, and it doesn’t know how to use the elevator—even if it did, it doesn’t have hands or arms.

Currently, Needybot can recognize 136 people in the office. That means 136 people have chatted with it and taken Needy to meet the next person it wants to meet. Hopefully these people have wasted a little time and felt a little better, which would mean that this little piece of technology has done its job perfectly. It has made us a little more human.

There doesn’t seem to be a massive market for worse-than-useless robots, but the things we have learned while making and will learn while watching Needy will influence much of what we subsequently do.

Our team aspires to build technology that solves for more than just ease. Needybot has put us on a path of learning that is unconventional, hard, and may well be the long way around, but so far we have learned a lot—quickly.

For that we can thank the little robot that couldn’t.

You can follow Needybot on Instagram and Twitter or learn more here: www.needybot.io.