Happiness is an amorphous beige robotic caterpillar

Funktionide by Stefan UlrichPart of the contract for the flat I rent states that I’m not allowed to keep pets, and there are plenty of other folk in the same situation. Plus pets are expensive – food, vet bills and so on – and demanding of your time. How might one get all the psychological benefits of pet ownership – the sense of affection and companionship, the amelioration of loneliness – without running into those obstacles?

German designer Stefan Ulrich has a solution in the form of Funktionide, a conceptual piece based around electroactive polymers acting as artificial muscles to embody a large amorphous shape-shifting object which will create the illusion of living company. [via PosthumanBlues]

The more design blogs I follow, the more I suspect I understand the motives behind conceptual projects like this… meaning that I suspect Ulrich has fully intended the Funktionide to be more than a little creepy and melancholic. Observe:

The notion of robotic pets – whether truly mimetic or otherwise – is at least as old as science fiction itself, of course. The main snagging point I have with Ulrich’s ideas is that I’m not sure loneliness will be one of the biggest problems in the near future, at least not for most people. It seems certain that our future is a predominantly urban one, which to me implies shared living spaces for the majority of people – it’s cheaper and more efficient, after all. Ulrich’s vision of this poor lonely chap in his spacious and stark white apartment doesn’t entirely match up with my own ideas about the singleton lifestyles of the next few decades…. what do you reckon?

10 thoughts on “Happiness is an amorphous beige robotic caterpillar”

  1. Of course loneliness will be a problem in the future; it’s a problem now. I only see it increasing. Just because you share living space with someone doesn’t mean you connect with that person on a social or emotional level. There seems to be an increase in the amount of incidental social interaction that is being traded for true friendships. As the technology increases to enable us to be further apart from one another, these substitutes for interaction will become if not more necessary then at least more desired.

  2. I think loneliness is perhaps the wrong word. It’s the simple need for touch. We can get companionship online, but there is something basically comforting about another body in the room with you that no webcam or virtual meeting can provide. We need physical contact to feel complete as humans.

  3. It must be my age but, that thing is really creepy. Remember the folk tales about cats smothering babies?


  4. I once saw a stuffed toy rabbit that had a separate bean bag inside, the kind you take out and put in a microwave to heat up. It’s supposed to feel like a living thing. I handled it and it just felt really _wrong_. I think the Uncanny Valley principle applies to touch as well as sight.

    Plus you’d have to explain to your kid why you disembowelled Frou Frou and put his innards in the oven, and why you can’t do that to your pets.

  5. It’s also possible, in order to keep a modicum of independence and privacy, that the ultra-urbanites of the future will live in very small, cheap, austere apartments, albeit crammed by the thousands into super-scrapers. I’m not saying the amorphous Depresso-matic will have a marketable future, but I could go for one, if just for the conversation starter.

  6. I’m not sure why exactly, but that video sure makes me feel sorry for the guy. Maybe it’s the background music? Anyway, I wouldn’t call his companion a robotic caterpillar. It seems more like a large, semi-living, pillow. This is perhaps like a grown-up version of those teddy bears with heartbeats (see http://www.comforthouse.com/sleepbear.html) that help comfort babies, no?

  7. It’s a design concept, Sonda; it’s probably not for sale, and certainly not on a commercial scale. You could always try enquiring directly through the guy’s website, though.

  8. It’s interesting to imagine that the video was produced by a race of amorphous beige slugs, who have constructed a strange simian companion.

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