Panasonic and co-developers at the Toyohashi University of Technology Michio Oka Lab collaborated to present an adorable robot that, well, has some stomach issues. In other words, this cute robot, Nicobo, has a farting problem for some reason. We have no idea why.
Despite that, Nicobo is a rotund gray ball of soft robotic joy. It carries a price tag of $360 per unit and is the kind of companion that seems perfect for a pandemic or for a person that may not be able to care for an actual animal. Nicobo looks is as if someone covered a deflated basketball with a gray sock and slapped a yellow-tipped tail on it. This sounds like an insult but the little guy is kinda insanely cute.
A lesson in katakoto — Nicobo is almost like a little toddler. The robotic pet speaks katakoto, which is Japanese for baby talk or imperfect speech, and if you watch any video involving Nicobo, its tiny and innocent voice will probably melt your heart. If you say hello to it, it responds with a shy hello. To make Nicobo somewhat realistic, its developers installed a camera inside the bot that allows Nicobo to spot faces and meet its owner's gaze.
Directional microphones enable Nicobo to listen to sounds and move its body accordingly to face the audio source. Nicobo's touch sensors make the bot sensitive to physical stimulation, so you can stroke its head or pat its back and elicit a reaction like surprise or comfort.
My personal favorite detail about Nicobo is that it doesn't mind a warm nap in the sun thanks to its light sensors. While functionality is super limited in Nicobo — it can't pick laundry up like the creepy Spot from Boston Dynamics — it still provides a sweet sense of companionship. It's like a cat... if a cat ate too much, turned strangely round, and developed stomach issues. It's endearing in an odd way. Again, these are compliments.
The only bad news about Nicobo is that you might face some trouble trying to buy one. As mentioned before, the price tag isn't so welcoming ($360 for a robot that farts sounds a bit much) and pre-orders for the little guy are pretty much taken.
People might cancel their orders and spots might open up, so our advice is that you sit tight in the meantime and keep an eye on the campaign. But if you refuse to wait, you might want to cough up a few extra bucks and try the MarsCat. She doesn't fart.