close
close

Would you trust a robot to take care of your cat?

Scientists from the University of Nottingham and artists from Blast Theory have created Cat Royale, a multi-species world centered around a custom enclosure where three cats and a robotic arm coexist for six hours a day during an installation for twelve days.

“From cleaning houses, mowing lawns, delivering groceries and running errands around hospitals, robots are finding their way into everyday life,” said Professor Steve Benford and fellow colleagues from the University of Nottingham.

“As they do this, they will inevitably interact and be encountered by animals.”

“These could be pets, the pets that share our homes or guide dogs that help us navigate public places, but they could also be wild animals.”

“Often these encounters will be unplanned and secondary to the robot’s intended task, for example cats riding Roombas, guide dogs being confused by delivery robots, or hedgehogs having to navigate a world inhabited by lawnmower robots.”

“However, they could also be intentional. We could design robots to serve animals as well.”

“Despite the inevitability of such encounters, planned or not, little is known about how to design robots for animals. Can we even trust them with each other?”

“Introducing Cat Royale, a creative exploration of designing a domestic robot to enrich cats’ lives through play.”

Schneiders et al.  we suggest that it takes more than a carefully designed robot to care for your cat, the environment in which they operate is also vital, as is human interaction.  Image credit: Schneiders et al., doi:10.1145/3613904.3642115.

Schneiders et al. we suggest that it takes more than a carefully designed robot to care for your cat, the environment in which they operate is also vital, as is human interaction. Image credit: Schneiders et al., two: 10.1145/3613904.3642115.

Cat Royale was launched in 2023 at the World Science Festival in Brisbane, Australia and has been touring ever since, just winning a Webby Award for its creative experience.

The installation centered around a robotic arm that offers activities to make the cats happier, including dragging a toy “mouse” across the floor, lifting a feathered “bird” into the air, and even offering them food.

The team then trained an AI to learn which games the cats liked the most, so it could personalize their experiences.

“At first glance, the project is about designing a robot to enrich the lives of a family of cats by playing with them,” Professor Benford said.

“Beneath the surface, however, it explores the question of what it would take to trust a robot to care for our loved ones, and possibly ourselves.”

Working with Blast Theory to develop and then study Cat Royale, the researchers gained important insights into the robot’s design and its interactions with cats.

They had to design the robot to pick up toys, unfold them in ways that would excite the cats, while it learned what games each cat liked.

They also designed the entire world that the cats and the robot lived in, providing safe spaces for the cats to observe and sneak up on the robot, and decorating it so that the robot would have the best chance of spotting the cats that were approach .

The implication is that designing robots involves interior design as well as engineering and AI.

If you want to bring robots into your home to take care of your loved ones, then you will probably need to redesign your home.

“As we learned through Cat Royale, creating a multi-species system – where cats, robots and humans are all considered – requires more than designing the robot,” said Dr Eike Schneiders, researcher at the University of Nottingham .

“At all times we had to ensure the welfare of the animals while ensuring that the interactive installation engaged the (human) audience around the world.”

“This involved considering many elements, including the design of the enclosure, the robot and its underlying systems, the different roles of humans-in-the-loop, and of course the selection of cats.”

The authors presented their results at CHI 2024 conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

_____

Eike Schneiders et al. Designing multi-species worlds for robots, cats and humans. CHI ’24: Proceedings of the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, article #593; two: 10.1145/3613904.3642115