The Robot Petting Zoo

The Robot Petting Zoo has been developed to provide humans with immersive, simulated, animal interactions.  The Robot Petting Zoo uses modified and off-the-shelf,  life-like,  robot animals for therapeutic fun for all ages. The robot animals  and the simulated natural soundscapes of the Relaxotron: Acoustic Feedback Audio isolation Kit (AFAIK), allow humans and machines to explore the “Uncanny Valley” of just how real fake can be and to increase comfort levels with non-traditional life forms.

The Robot Petting Zoo was part of a Group Show at the Daugherty Arts Center in Austin Texas in 2012

The Robot Petting Zoo was part of a Group Show at the Daugherty Arts Center in Austin Texas in 2012

How does it work?

A small group of people enter the pen and sit down amongst our robot animal menagerie.  Participants put on the Relaxotron headphones which allow the whole group to simultaneously hear the same sounds while they interact with the animals. Petting Zoo Mecha-Zoologist operators maintain the robots while our Relaxotron engineers begin create the soundtrack for their experience.  As participants interact with the “animals,” the soundtrack is used to transport them to a number of simulated settings including: a farm, the jungle, a circus, the woods, or one of our special custom environments. Educational toys are in development which will, if successful, allow selected users to contribute to the animal ambiance.

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What is Tactile Feedback/Reinforcement/HMI anyway?

Can’t I just hold a kitten?

No, you cannot hold a kitten, many aspects of life are not pet friendly. That being said research has shown that robot pets can give much of the satisfaction of a “live” pet with none of the associated “biological hazards.” Fluffy The Robot Dog was the inspiration for The Robot Petting Zoo. For several years, prior to The Robot Petting Zoo, Fluffy amazed young and old with his life-like behaviors and no one stepped in anything.  Robot animals can be safer and offer more predictable behaviors than “living creatures”. You are much less likely to be bitten by a ‘Bot than a Bowser.

HMI is the Science of how Humans and Machines Interact with one another. Therapeutic robot pets have been used successfully in the care of the elderly and children. They are preferable in a clinical setting, as they carry no disease of allergens.  The Tactile Feedback of an interactive pet has been shown to reduce stress levels. Reacting and interacting via systems of sensors, movements and sounds these ‘bots are lifelike enough that people will imbue them with a sense of life and personality. Who is to say otherwise?

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The Relaxotron (AFAIK) utilizes an auditory interface reminiscent of childhood and simpler times.  The machinery, color, case and headphones were sourced from elementary school learning apparatus in an effort to be non-threatening and invite participants to sit and relax in a safe environment.

Similarly, The Robot Petting Zoo animals will mostly be cuddly doggies and kittens and creatures we typically wish to interact with.  These include a surprise life size barnyard animal.  However, in the interests of furthering our overall comfort level with hybrids and non-typical creatures, we have introduced a diverse and interesting variety of creatures.  As funding sources are established we have mechazoologists standing by to search out, modify and create new types of robot toy animals.  Each participant should come away with a better understanding of their personal preferences with regards to interaction with alternative life forms. How many legs are too many? How many eyes are enough?  Soft or scaly?

Robot Petting Zoo Participant with Relaxotron Headphones contemplates his reflection

Robot Petting Zoo participant enjoys Relaxotron headphone mix while contemplating his reflection