You don’t need Qoobo in your life. Nobody needs Qoobo, exactly. In fact, first reactions tend to range from befuddlement to bemusement. The robotic cat pillow doesn’t make a ton of sense on the face of it — in part because Qoobo has no face.
The handful of times I’ve interacted with the original Qoobo in person, reactions have been pretty uniform. The initial confusion gives way to the question of why such a thing needs to exist. And then, inevitably, someone asks how they can buy one of their own.
The original, larger version was fairly difficult to get here in the States for a while, owing to the limitation of a small robotics company has in bringing its product to a brand new market. I suspect there was also a question of whether such an idiosyncratic product would translate. In the end, however, there’s nothing particularly confusing about it.
At its subtly beating heart is an attempt to deliver comfort in a small, furry package. It’s something we could all probably use more of these days. Following a successful Indiegogo campaign, the new Petit Qoobo delivers that in a smaller, more affordable design. “Petit Qoobo is a cushion-shaped robot with a tail,” the included user guide begins. “When stroked, the tail waves gently.”
Honestly, that’s kind of the whole deal here. It’s a furry pillow with a robotic tail that waves when pet. Pet it more vigorously and the tail responds in kind. The pillow has a built-in mic that listens for sound (though not specific words), which can elicit a wag. I’ve found that things like a knock on the door or loud music can also trigger this effect. It will also just wag at random “just to say ‘hello’.”
Petit Qoobo is sitting on my lap as I write this. And yes, it’s soothing. It’s not a replacement for a real pet — but I also know full well that my real pet (pictured above) would not be as chill about sitting on my lap while I try to get some work done. When I’m finished petting Qoobo, there’s no protest — the tail simply goes slack.
The robot will also “go to sleep” after extensive petting — in order to save on charge, one assumes. When time comes to recharge, there’s a port located — let’s just say it’s near the tail. A zipper along the outside makes it possible to remove the fur coat altogether for cleaning.
The tail mechanism isn’t loud, per se, but it’s audible. You can hear the actuators moving as it goes to work. Honestly, the buzzing is more charming than anything. The only time it’s an issue is when using the device as a pillow. Qoobo’s other clever trick is a quiet heartbeat that triggers when squeezed. It’s a nice, calming effect — though one that can sometimes be overpowered by the tail noise.
The device is part of a long and fascinating lineage of Japanese therapy robotics. The most notable example is probably Paro, which dates back to the 90s. The baby seal was designed to calm and comfort patients in hospitals and nursing rooms — essentially a way to bring the benefits of therapy animals without having to have actual animals involved. Of course, that project, which ultimately cost around $15 million in development, is on an entirely different scale than this product from Yukai Engineering.
But the result isn’t entirely dissimilar. There are just certain parts of us that are wired to want to pet something furry and hear a heartbeat — both boxes this strange little robot happily checks. I certainly feel a bit calmer writing this — and that’s probably the most you can ask for these days.