MIT’s ‘Tofu’ Robot Mixes Science, Ridiculous Cuteness

Working in MIT’s Media Lab Personal Robotics Group must be a good gig–they get to create and scientifically “play about with” some fantastic stuff, such as the Huggable care-over-telepresence robot. But Tofu, the lab’s latest research offering, takes the prize as the most ridiculously cute machine ever, with a clear science purpose behind its construction.

The robot’s named after the foodstuff, and with good reason: just like the soya-based edible, Tofu the ‘bot can both stretch and squish. Check out the video of it in action.

It’s an investigation on incorporating classic cartoon-like behavior into robots, and how that will affect our interaction with otherwise seemingly “lifeless” machines.

Disney’s animators pioneered tricks like squash and stretch, along with secondary motion (ripples and jiggle caused as a character walks, for example) in the 1950s, and its been a staple of cartoons ever since. Simply put, the exaggeratedly non-natural motions of squash and stretch can add emotional expression to otherwise “dead” objects.

Tofu achieves the same behavior with compliant, elastically-coupled materials and smart actuators that are “vibrant yet robust.” It’s a bit similar to Keepon, another research robot for human-machine interaction studies developed at Carnegie Mellon, that’s famous for it’s viral dancing video. But where Keepon is simple externally, the MIT science team has added OLED eyes to their robot to give it an amazing degree of expression.

The Personal Robotics Group’s motto is “living better with robots,” and if our robotic future is to be peopled (roboted?) with artificial entities as cute as this, then I say bring it on.