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Blossom: A Handmade Approach to Social Robotics from Cornell and Google

Via IEEE Spectrum

As excited as we are about the forthcoming generation of social home robots (including Jibo, Kuri, and many others), it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of them look somewhat similar. They tend to feature lots of shiny white and black plasticky roundness. That’s for admittedly very good reasons, but it comes at the cost of both uniqueness and visual and tactile personality.

Guy Hoffman, who is well known for the fascinating creativity of his robot designs, has been working on a completely new kind of social robot in a collaboration between his lab at Cornell and Google ZOO’s creative technology team in APAC. The robot is called Blossom, and we’d describe it for you, except that it’s designed to be handmade out of warm natural materials like wool and wood so that every single one is a little bit different.

Blossom is not the first soft robot designed to interact with people, and also not the first to use materials that emphasize touch. Robots like Keepon, Tofu and Mochi, and Romibo all encourage tactile interaction through things like squishiness and fluffiness, deliberately avoiding hard plastics wherever possible. Blossom, however, is perhaps the first robot to be soft both inside and outside, using a compliant internal structure to enable movements that give the robot a somewhat imperfect (and therefore much more organic) personality.

The outside of Blossom can be equally organic and imperfect, especially if you’re not very good at crocheting or woodworking, since Blossom’s exterior is very much do-it-yourself. Most DIY-type robots rely on 3D printing, which is usually reasonable for the sorts of people who decide that they want a DIY-type robot, but Blossom is designed to be accessible and engaging for people who might be more comfortable with traditional crafts that don’t necessarily rely on the latest technology. As Guy Hoffman explained to us, “we were asking ourselves: ‘How can we involve the whole family in building technology for the home?’ And the idea of crafts like knitting, sewing, and traditional woodworking came out of that question.”

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