Coming home when you live alone is pretty anticlimactic. You're excited to have made it through the workday, but then there's no one there to ask how your day went, or to cook you dinner, or to give you a hug — very unfortunate (unless you're an uber-introvert, of course). But the fact is, the amount of one-person households around the world is growing, according to the crew behind the new robot, Fribo. And those who live alone are more likely to suffer from depression and social isolation.
Fribo is a cat-like robot that was presented by a group of Korean roboticists at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction in Chicago this year. Fribo recognizes "living noises," such as the opening of doors, fridges, and washers. And if your friends also own a Fribo, it tells them what you're up to. So, your friends can text you to ask about it, or you can communicate through the Fribo by knocking on a hard surface to ask "what are you doing?" or clapping to express empathy. Additionally, Fribo's eyeballs bop along to whatever music you're listening to — you know, in case that's something you've been missing in your life.
So the roboticists conducted a field study to test out their Fribo protoype. Participants aged 20 to 39 who live in studio apartments alone and have no pets were grouped up into threes with their friends to test if Fribo would make them feel less lonely. The feedback was generally positive. The Fribo imparted the sense of living together, promoted social interaction, and users even began to consider it to be more of a friend rather than just a middleman.
But if you're like us, you're probably wondering: What about privacy? Many robots gather visual information, but Fribo only gathers audio — a decision made with privacy concerns in mind. This approach is supposedly less intrusive.
There's no word yet if Fribo will be picked up and become available for purchase by the general public. But in the meantime, we have mixed emotions about the little guy — is the answer to social isolation even more technology? Do we really want a robot to know about every move we're making in our home? Tell us how you feel.