HOW MIGHT BLABDROIDS AFFECT COFFEE SHOP CONVERSATION?
If you didn’t happen to catch the Robot Petting Zoo at this year’s South by Southwest interactive festival, you may have missed this little cutie:
He’s a tiny cardboard robot that can perch in the palm of your hand or snuggle up next to your coffee cup. Formally, he’s known as a BlabDroid and was designed as a documentary filmmaker. The designers used him to approach random strangers on the street and ask them a few very intimate questions.
Surprisingly, the answers elicited were very candid. In part, the researchers believe, because of the robot’s high cuteness quotient, and, because people seem to be more comfortable revealing themselves to inanimate objects.
Adorable though he may be, BlabDroid asks tough questions: “Tell me something that you’ve never told a stranger before,” he says.
With his irresistible smile and simple cardboard packaging, his architect, Alexander Reben, tells us that: “In a relationship with a robot, where you’re being very vulnerable, the other actor in that situation has to be as vulnerable as you,” he says. “So if the robot is small, tiny, made out of cardboard, you kind of feel like you can open up to him more because he’s very familiar and you feel like you’re in control of that situation.”
Recently, Reben linked up with a nonprofit organization that assembles volunteers in the tech industry to be available when a disaster hits. The goal is to deploy BlabDroid to communicate with survivors.
“When you just got through a difficult situation where you may not want to talk to other people about what’s happening, like if you have a fun character come in, it’s not as serious as coming to a psychologist,” Reben says.
An honorable resource for humanity, but, I can’t help wondering if we’ll soon be cuddling up with our BlabDroids and a cup of mocha java at the local coffee shop . . . chatting privately with our robots rather than with each other.
Sources: Laura Sydell on Morning Edition/NPR and Chris Morris at The Fortune Daily
March 18, 2015