By Don Reisinger
April 5, 2018

Korean robot scientists have developed a new robot that aims at increasing the amount of time lonely people or those who prefer to be alone spend time with others.

The robot, called Fribo, is a small cat-like device that listens to all the sounds popping up in your home. Instead of listening too much to what you’re saying, it aims at determining when you’re cleaning your house, cooking, or watching the big game. It then takes that information and sends it off to a Fribo at your friend’s house, which then conveys that message to your friend. The technology was earlier reported on by IEEE Spectrum and The Verge.

According to the scientists, who discussed the technology behind Fribo with IEEE Spectrum, the robot will offer information to other people in a way that encourages interaction. In one example, a Fribo told its owner that a friend had “just opened the refrigerator door.” The robot added that it wondered “which food your friend is going to have.” The technology then hopes that the person will want to know who opened the refrigerator and start interacting with his or her friend.

“The primary function of Fribo is to share the daily activities to alleviate isolated feeling and loneliness that one experiences while living at home alone,” the researchers wrote in a paper published recently.

Of course, there are obvious privacy implications to all of this. Some folks, for instance, might not like the idea of a robot listening in on their every move in the house and telling others about it. And since some of those folks might be happy to be alone, sharing their every move might be more of an annoyance than a socialization opportunity.

However, the researchers told IEEE Spectrum that Fribo has been designed to maximize privacy and will never reveal who, for instance, just opened a refrigerator, unless the recipient asks who and the originator actually agreed to revealing his or her identity. In the published paper, the researchers said they tested the technology with small groups of friends who were in their mid-20s. Those people through Fribo enhanced their socialization and its gentle nudging to call or text friends helped them address loneliness.

It’s unclear what the future holds for Fribo. The robot was designed to test how artificial intelligence could help with loneliness and there’s no telling yet whether Fribo will make its way to store shelves.

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In their paper, the scientists said that they want to conduct a longer study to see how the robot might help young people and suggested performing the research in other countries to see how well it would perform outside of Korea.

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