Tombot looks at you with soulful eyes. It wags its tail and makes an "arf" noise, raising its eyebrows as you pet it. The fact that Tombot could almost pass at a glance for a real dog is a testament to the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which provided the artistic design for the bot.
Tombot is an intriguing Kickstarter project. It wants to turn out affordable, adorable robot puppies to help soothe seniors with dementia, and to act as companions to anyone who can't have a real pet. As with all crowdfunding efforts, keep in mind that not all projects deliver on time or as expected.
Tombot co-founder Tom Stevens was inspired to create the robo-pup after having to rehome his mother's dog when her Alzheimer's became too severe for the beloved pet to safely stay with her. He hopes Tombot will provide a sense of emotional support and affection and improve the quality of life for seniors with dementia.
The Kickstarter project has so far exceeded its modest $20,000 goal, to the tune of over $35,000 with two weeks left to run.
While early-bird pledge prices for the robot are set at $299 (£225, AU$420), the eventual sales price is expected to be $449. Tombot has a very different skill set, but it costs way less than a $2,900.
Tombot's primary purpose seems to be to hang out and interact with people as a robotic lap dog. Jim Henson's Creature Shop, famous for building Muppets and developing creatures for Labyrinth and Where the Wild Things Are, provided the artistic design services for the Tombot prototypes.
Tombot says the puppy will use a companion smartphone app for upgrading the robot's software.
There are plenty of questions to ask about the eventual finalized production design. Tombot doesn't know yet how cleaning the battery-powered robot will work. The fur may be removable, or it may have to be cleaned in place. The final product will also have to undergo durability testing, since the robots may not always be treated gently.
Tombot hopes to deliver the robots in 2020. If the project succeeds, the robopups will join adesigned to provide comfort, stress relief and companionship.