Meet Fribo, a robot built for lonely young people

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The number of people living alone is increasing in the United States and other developed nations, and it's definitely not a good thing. Loneliness and isolation are bad for your health, physically and mentally, so that societies are interested in thinking about how we can unite people. Many blame technology for this fragmentation, but could it be useful?
Korean researchers think so, and have developed a prototype robot called Fribo that encourages young people to send text messages and call each other. Unlike many other robots built for the home, Fribo does not pretend to be social in itself, but to encourage socialization in others. The fribos are meant to be distributed in a group of friends' houses, creating what researchers call a "virtual living space" that brings together people who are physically isolated.
Fribo creates a "virtual living space" among a group of houses
Fribo does this by listening to the activity in people's homes and encouraging users to talk through chat applications. The microphones and sensors recognize domestic activities, such as when someone comes home, turns on a light, sucks in or opens a fridge. This information is shared anonymously with the rest of the group. "Oho!" Says Fribo. "Your friend opened the front door, did anyone just get home?
Anyone who receives this message can respond by sending a text message to the group chat or by tapping twice near their Fribo, which will recognize the sound and transmit a direct message: "What are you doing? Kwangmin is curious!" Users can also Share the approval by applauding three times when your Fribo gives you a message about an anonymous activity. So, if you have been notified that a friend has just arrived home late, you can send them a "welcome back" message by simply applauding.

It is an interesting and novel concept that encourages communication by keeping friends informed about the activities of other friends. This is similar to the function of social news. The difference is that it does not depend on individuals who volunteer information, and unlike platforms like Facebook, the intended audience is relatively small.
According to all the reports, Fribo seems to have been a success. Fribo was presented at the ACM / IEEE International Conference on Interaction with Human Robots last month, and in a document describing the work (entitled "Fribo: a social networking robot to increase social connectivity through the daily exchange of homemade activities from of living noise data "). The Korean universities Yonsei and KAIST interviewed four groups of young people who tested the robot for a month.
One participant said: "I can imagine what my friend is doing and I feel as if we live in the same house, but in another room, it is like sharing activities of daily life with friends". Others reported sending text messages and calling friends more frequently, and even said that having a Fribo changed their daily routine. "I usually get up late in the morning," said one, "but when I began to realize that my friends were getting ready early, I started thinking about starting the day before with my friends."
The robot itself also received positive comments. (In this writer's opinion, the design seems to have been inspired by the Studio Ghibli animations, not bad at all.) The participants said that in the course of their test, they felt closer to their Fibro. One said: "As I am aware of the presence of the robot in my house, I have started talking to the robot more often, I tell the robot things that I would not normally say out loud."

A close look at Fribo. A is the light sensor; B the LCD screen; C the ultrasonic sensor; D the speaker; E the microphone; F the sound sensor; G temperature and humidity sensor; and H the Raspberry Pi.

Of course, not all the comments were positive. Evaluators are concerned about the privacy implications of a product designed to inform about their daily activity (a concern that is common among Amazon Echo or Google Home owners). And the researchers observed that Fribo was designed and tested with the Korean public in mind, and other cultures may react differently. However, these are relatively minor disadvantages, and given the economic construction of Fribo (it is driven by a Raspberry Pi and has only a simple screen and basic sensors inside), it could easily be adapted if it ever reached the market.
While the constant possibility of connection provided by technology can encourage us to spend time apart, it can also be used to unite us. As personal assistants become more common in the home and more and more people begin to live alone (not only young people, but also among the elderly), we must explore how we can create new types of community. Maybe robots like Frido can help.


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