What Can We Learn From Robotic Companions?

Alexander Flemming wasn’t looking for a way to squash bacterial infections when he discovered penicillin. In fact, some stories described Flemming as basically stumbling upon one of the greatest medical discoveries ever made.

In 1942, a team of scientists tried to develop a clear plastic gun sight to be used by the U.S. military. They instead happened across cyanoacrylate, otherwise known as superglue.

The microwave was apparently dreamed up because of a chocolate bar that melted in Percy Spencer’s pocket.

What does all of that have to do with robots? Absolutely nothing. But it does go to show that some truly great discoveries and innovations can come from some unexpected places. A small discovery here, or a unique application there, can end up being the foundation for some incredible technologies.

The field of robotics provides a great example. Robotics is an area in which there can be some tremendous applications, or some rather trivial applications. A robot that’s designed to facilitate search and rescue by limiting human exposure to dangerous or unknown conditions is certainly beneficial. An animatronic cat that may or may not convince an individual that it is in fact a real cat doesn’t really seem to demonstrate much value.

Hasbro, the multi-billion dollar toy company that makes everything from board games to action figures, has recently unveiled a robotic cat which they are calling a “companion device”.

The robotic companion is equipped with servos and sensors, and is capable of blinking, purring, and contorting in a somewhat feline manner. Although most people wouldn’t mistake the companion device for an actual cat, it does appear to be similar enough to be comforting to some individuals. As families get smaller and more geographically dispersed and loneliness becomes a public health issue, robotic companions could have value, even if that seems a little sad right now.

It may not seem as though a borderline creepy animatronic cat can spark much of a boon in the field of robotics, but who would have though that leaving a window open would lead to one of the most effective forms of medicine we have today?

Sure, it isn’t very likely that simulated purring will translate to industrial automation, but the more frequently that robotic technologies are used and experimented with, the more likely it is that the next groundbreaking discovery will be made.