CES 2020 featured plenty of companion robots designed for the sole purpose of friendship (and bringing you toilet paper, but more on that later). As these machines are gearing up to become further integrated into domestic life, it raises the question of the validity of the relationships we may develop with them. Are these bonds healthy? Can they replace the ones we have with our actual pets? Are they suitable to give to more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or those struggling with mental illness?

This year, the Las Vegas showroom floor was flooded with friendly bots that were designed with two things in mind: to love humans and look as cute as possible while doing it.

Elephant Robotics showcased the world’s first bionic robotic cat, MarsCat. According to their website, “MarsCat walks, runs, sleeps, sits, stretches, bites nails, kneads and even buries litter although she won’t produce any waste.” Promising consistently joyful interactions, MarsCat appeals to those that want all of the benefits of having a pet but don’t necessarily have the appropriate amount of time to spend taking care of them. On one hand, it seems that these robotic companions provide all of the joy of having a furry companion without requiring any level of responsibility from its owner. However, one could argue that the benefit of robotic pets lies in the very fact that they don’t need to be cared for, providing the simulation of responsibility for those that are learning to or unable to care for a pet of their own.

Also gracing the showroom floor was Charmin’s Rollbot. This tech-based bathroom aid is designed to bring you toilet paper when you need it most. The biggest flaw in the current design is that it doesn’t have hands, which begs a series of important questions for its overall purpose: how will it retrieve toilet paper in a domestic setting? Will it ever be able to open linen closets or go downstairs? Currently, Charmin is working with engineers to find those answers.

The world of robotics is gaining traction during a unique cultural moment. Many of us have already made virtual assistants a part of our daily lives, from Alexa to Siri to the weather app on our phones so we can know whether it’s raining without opening a window. With a population that struggles to unplug and experiences a practically euphoric response to social media notifications, it’s likely that it won’t take long for one of these robotic companions to find their spot on the couch… or by the toilet.

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