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Would you trust a robot to look after your cat?

May. 13, 2024.
2 min. read Interactions

Designing robots involves interior design as well as engineering and AI

About the Writer

Amara Angelica

174.38865 MPXR

Electronics engineer and inventor

Cat with a robot arm in the Cat Royale installation (credit: Blast Theory – Stephen Daly)

New research found it takes more than a carefully designed robot to care for your cat. Their environment is also vital, as well as human interaction.

“Cat Royale” is a collaboration between computer scientists from the University of Nottingham and artists at Blast Theory, who worked together to create a multispecies world centered around a enclosure in which three cats and a robot arm coexist for six hours a day, as part of an artist-led project.

Designing the “world,” not just the tech

The open-access research paper “Designing Multispecies Worlds for Robots, Cats, and Humans” suggests that designing the technology and its interactions is not sufficient. It’s equally important to consider the design of the “world” in which the technology operates and human involvement.

To do that, the researcher used a robot arm offering activities to make the cats happier, like dragging a “mouse” toy along the floor, raising a feather “bird” into the air, and even offering them treats to eat. The team then trained an AI to learn what games the cats liked best so that it could personalize their experiences.

A designed world

The researrchers found it had to design the robot to pick up toys and deploy them in ways that excited the cats while it learned which games each cat liked. They also designed the entire world in which the cats and the robot lived, providing safe spaces for the cats to observe the robot and (from which to sneak up on it) and decorating it so that the robot had the best chance of spotting the approaching cats. 

The implication: designing robots involves interior design as well as engineering and AI. It includes the enclosure, the robot and its underlying systems, the various roles of the humans-in-the-loop, and, of course, the selection of the cats. 

Eike Schneiders et al. 11 May 2024. Designing Multispecies Worlds for Robots, Cats, and Humans. CHI ’24: Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. https://doi.org/10.1145/3613904.3642115 (open access)

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