Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nabaztag and pet appliances

A couple weeks ago, I happened upon this strange internet rabbit. Nowadays, there are lots of electronic pets that react to people, so that wasn't anything new. But there were some aspects of Nabaztag that were intriguing and was worth some musing. Nabaztag is a kind of appliance/toy that's connected to the web. It's a little hard to describe at first, but this how it works does a good job of giving examples.

Generally, I see it as a simplified interface for the web embodied in a pet avatar. If you've ever watched any anime, you'll be familiar with pet sidekicks, usually for comic relief or raising the cuteness factor. If you imagine a sidekick through whom you can channel to communicate/interact with others, or to receive news, that'd probably be on the spot to what a Nabaztag does.

But why do I think it's worth posting?

When the internet was conceived, there were many users on a few computers. This has changed significantly. There are now a few users on many computers. Computers are not only mainframes, but first desktop, then laptops, and now budding, mobile devices. Eventually, there will be many more devices retrofitted for the web, such as refrigerators, stoves, and clocks. But that doesn't mean that there won't be communications appliances made specifically for the web.

Nabaztag seems to be, one of the early steps in making communications appliances in a form that people bond with. This can work one of two ways.

1) Just on the news today was a piece on how toddlers treated a QURIO as one of their own and bonded with it.

I can see something QURIO-like that will do just enough to fool us in the right ways for us to bond with it, like the toddlers have, and make it part of the family--like a home robot. Not really a robot to do heavy labor, but more like a companion/pet that can give you the weather and channels your friends to you.

2) Alternatively, we can have electronic pets that don't fool us, but rather, they are representatives and reflections of ourselves and we use them to interact with our friends' pets (also representatives of themselves). We already do this to some extend through MMORPGs as well as the many Sim Games. However, the difference is that we play those avatars. Here, the pets are recognized to be separate from ourselves, but they are our delegate. Just as people socialize through their dogs at dog parks, I think people will start to socialized based on their physical electronic pets.

If the pets learn its owner's habits, when it meets other people's pets, one might be able to trade information/gossip, or judge how well they'd get along with each other based on how well their pets got along with each other.

So why check the weather through a robot rabbit than through the browser on your computer? Sometimes, it's a lot faster through the rabbit, since it has lights and indicators you can check at a glance. Presumably, that's why the Ambient Orbs have been making money. Information becomes a part of a person's environment, rather than something that's queried.

But an even more compelling reason is that it becomes another dimension in interacting with other humans, and in self-expression. The pet becomes an extension of self that one uses to interact with others. And with the web, the interaction doesn't have to be physical. One of the interesting demonstrations on Nabaztag is that two rabbits can get married, and thus would imitate each other's ears. If a user on one end can control the ears of your friend's pet, you can communicate tactile touch, and your pets would be channeling you to your friend. Extended to a gel-like tactile substance that changes shape like a piezo-electric, it would make it even more real.

And while I don't know for sure whether any of this will happen, it seems like an exciting area to explore.

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