The Beggar ‘Bot: Highest-Tech Solution Yet To Charity Fatigue

There’s always a hand out-stretched begging for cash for a cause, it seems. But here’s a robotic one, attached to Little Red (Digital) Riding Hood. Will cuteness deliver more cash?



There’s always a hand out-stretched begging for cash for a cause, it seems. And you probably rarely, if ever, give. But here’s an experiment: You may feel differently if that hand were robotic, and if that robotic hand was attached to Little Red (Digital) Riding Hood.

Korean researchers, with input from MIT’s famous Media Lab, have been developing their “urban donation motivating robot,” a.k.a. DONA, for a while, and just unveiled the most advanced prototype yet. DONA is essentially a tiny droid that’s heavy on the cuteness and packed with robotic smarts–enough to make it engage with potential charity donors in a convincing way.

The robot has sensors above its donation box that detect someone approaching–it then reacts with some body-moves like bowing, waving and wiggling its arms in a pleased way, which makes the donor happy, and potentially entices other nearby people to hand over some cash, too, in exchange for more robotic wiggling. 

DONA’s not exactly the smartest robot we’ve ever seen, but as a relatively low-cost device it’s definitely a trick that could work in encouraging charity donations in an era when you can even tweet or text to donate cash to some causes that need aid. Judging from that video evidence, DONA’s potential to combat charity fatigue and solicit donations really seems to work, which is in contrast to the thousands of people who stream by charity solicitors on city streets with nary a glance.


If robots like DONA became popular, then we would quickly become immune to their charms, and designers would have to step-up the technology–a charity robot arms race with no end in sight. In the future as robots get more sophisticated, one can imagine an evolution of DONA as a more fully-functioned android that actually engages you in conversation to try to persuade you to donate. Already DONA creates some interesting ethical and emotional questions about why we donate to a good cause. Is it due to the cause or because it makes you feel good? How would you feel about giving money to aid a human if asked to do so by a persuasive inhuman machine? DONA’s actively at work already, and the money it raises goes to Save The Children to help educate kids in the Ivory Coast.

Related Story: The State Of Our Robotic Overlords, On The Day Skynet Becomes Self-Aware

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