Carly Lane
March 18, 2015 1:21 pm

If someone uttered the phrase “robot petting zoo,” what would be the first image that pops into your head? The idea leaves the door open for a world of wonderful possibilities —which is kind of what the robotics industry has been focusing on over the last few years.

Some people are under the impression that we may be on the long track towards the next Terminator or Battlestar Galactica (wherein there’s a huge technology takeover, just FYI), and it’s true that we’re definitely still a long ways off from something like that happening. But there’s a new showcase at the South by Southwest festival that’s striving to prove how fun robots can be through an interactive experience: in other words, a petting zoo! With robots!

One robot in particular is getting people to spill the secrets they might not have shared with a pair of human ears. BlabDroid, created by Alexander Reben, is a tiny robot made of cardboard that asks the kind of icebreaker questions that will get people to open up. He might not look very impressive on the outside, but if you take a look at his interior, you’ll see a LOT went into this little guy. In a sense, he’s like a miniature version of Wall-E.

One of the many cool things about these robots, is that they’re encouraging us to get in touch with our feelings and deepest emotions without the fear that a human will judge us for them. “In a relationship with a robot, where you’re being very vulnerable, the other actor in that situation has to be as vulnerable as you,” Reben said in an interview with NPR. “So if the robot is small, tiny, made out of cardboard, you kind of feel like you can open up to him more because he’s very familiar and you feel like you’re in control of that situation.”

Reben and BlabDroid are also partnering with a non-profit organization that offers support for disaster survivors —sort of like a therapy robot to communicate with people in need. Pretty awesome, right?

Other robots in the showcase include Ozobot, a tiny palm-sized droid that follows directions communicated to it. By drawing lines on a piece of paper, Ozobot can be instructed to move, stop or change direction. The purpose is to teach children more about robots and technology, according to Ozobot sales representative Tara Reynen.

The petting zoo is proof that there’s more than just the scary robots of Hollywood out there that try to take over the human race and run amok (like Smart House, or Skynet from Terminator, or Agent Smith from The Matrix JUST to name a few scary robot movies), and the robotics industry is finding more and more ways to incorporate the technology into our everyday life. Here are just a few more of our favorites showcased at SXSW this year.

So. Rad.

[All images via.]

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