The idea of artificial pets is nothing new. Those Tamagotchi digital pets sparked a weird craze back in the 1990s, and you can make the case that the mechanical pet concept goes back a long way in the toy business.
But things are getting interesting in recent years with the advent of so-called companion robots. High-end machines like the humanoid robot Pepper are engineered specifically to interact with humans and approximate affection and empathy. Some are even programmed to analyze voice tones, body language or facial expressions and respond appropriately.
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In a move that may suggest where these two phenomena are intersecting, Hasbro recently announced a line of robotic pets for seniors. Part of the company's new Joy For All line of products, the robotic pets have motion and light sensors designed to allow for realistic responses to being stroked or held.
As of now, the product line features cats only, available in three models named "Orange Tabby Cat," "Creamy White Cat" and - we're quoting here - "Silver Cat with White Mitts."
Unlike traditional mechanical pets, the kitty bots have a relatively wide range of motions. Stroke the kitty and it'll wiggle and purr. Rub the tummy and it flips over. Scratch its head and it will do that thing cats do where they burrow their nose into your hand.
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As you can see from Hasbro's product page, the company is marketing the robotic cats specifically to senior citizens and positioning the product line as "companion pets" rather than toys. I don't know about the company's demo video - the tone is rather off-putting - but the idea itself certainly is intriguing. Hasbro's Joy For All Motto: "Why should kids have all the fun?"
At any rate, you can order up your kitty bot now for the low, low price of $99.99 plus shipping and handling. Batteries not included.