Petimo: World’s First Social Networking Robot - Cheap Kids Toys?

Petimo the Interactive Robotic Cheap Toy

Now this is an interesting find. Chanced upon the Petimo Toy Robot, supposedly the world’s first social networking robot! I am not sure if the toy robot would end up as a cheap toy (I would update my readers on the price once they are made known), but it sure looks cool and definitely a world's first! The Petimo Toy Robot is developed by a team led by Associate Professor Adrian Cheok from the Keio-NUS CUTE Centre. Now the Petimo may still be at its prototype state, but it has already shown great potential! Before I explain this toy in detail, maybe you would want to take a look at how this toy looks like:

Pretty cute if you ask me right? And this is just an example, the robots come in different shapes, sizes and maybe even characters! The Petimo Toy Robot is built with a furry exterior, which feels like animal skin, and has a small round physical shape, providing a warm and tender feeling of a baby animal. Doesn't it look cuddly? I'm sure children will find it friendly, lovable and adorable! Oh, and the Petimo is designed specially for children between the ages of 7 to 9 years old.

Now what is this toy robot all about and how does it link to "social networking"? As younger children are more exposed to the internet these days, it has also become more likely for them to join social networks to make friends or use them to keep in touch with their friends in the real world. However, as everybody knows, cyberspace is not a safe place for kids. Thus some researchers had the idea of introducing a toy robot, known as Petimo, that would would not only be a fun cheap toy (well I certainly hope it would be cheap!) but would also protect the children from the dangers of the online world.

Basically, the Petimo Robot Toy was designed with the main aim in mind to protect children from potential risks in social networks and the virtual world. This is done by bringing the online world into the real world through the use of the Petimo Toy Robot, which instead of being an avatar in the online world, acts as a avatar in the real world. Thus if a child wishes to add a friend in the online world, which is called Petimo World, the two Petimo Toy Robots owned by the two kids have to physically touch each other. The proximity requirement increases safety and thus adds a new physical dimension to social networking. In addition, this prevents strangers from making friends with the children. Petimo can thus be used to connect kids to any social network but at the same time protect the child from it. Just look at the diagram below to get a better understanding:

With the use of the Petimo Toy Robot, children experience enhanced relationships with their friends through interactions in the real and virtual world by sending gifts and emoticons mediated by the robots with haptic, visual, and audible events. Now thats cool! The toy robot is the link to the kid's online world! In addition, interactions with the Petimo Toy Robot not only includes touching but also squeezing, thus allowing children to interact with the robot more closely and improving their emotional relationship with the robot. The Petimo Toy Robot can also be used by teachers to promote social interaction among children in class! According to Assoc Prof Cheok, he mentioned more features will be added to the Toy Robot. These include touch-screen functions, new types of covers or skins for the outer finish of the robot as well as a whole range of applications that include games and intuitive features like 3-G technology and more.

The 3D virtual world known as "Petimo World" has social networking capabilities and was designed based on Japanese popular “Kawaii” (cute) culture. In Petimo World, the cute virtual characters are linked to the physical Petimo Robotic Toy, and while the children are playing with their friends through Petimo physically, the virtual characters interact with each other in the online world accordingly! The Petimo World also provides the capability for parents to supervise their children’s online behavior through its parental authentication module which enhances not only children’s online security but also the relationship between children and parents. For example, all tentative friend additions are queued in the parental authentication module for approval and a notification is sent to the parents informing them about the awaiting friend requests. This feature bridges the missing moral link between parents and children in the virtual world. Cool!
Together, Petimo and Petimo-World would act as new tools to cultivate positive social behaviour towards computing environments among young children/kids. The Petimo Toy Robot has already been selected by an international review panel as one of the best three submissions for the Como for Children (C4C) design competition held at The 8th International conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2009). If you are interested in reading the research paper, you may click here. By building real social networks through interactions with the Petimo Toy Robot, children would be gleefully entertained as squeeze, touch and send gifts / emoticons to their friends, families and parents. Hopefully this toy would be cheap. Stay tuned to my cheap toys blog as I bring you more updates on the Petimo Toy Robot in the future!