Hi, Fribo. Come on in.

It has been reported that there are over 5 million young adults between the ages of 18-35 living alone, and the powers that be are saying the number is growing. That’s here in the US, but the situation is similar all over the world. With many, of course, that is by their own choice, but it still can be isolating, lonely.

Most young people are into being social. Now, there are the bars and clubs, Facebook and Twitter, etc, but what about those who find it hard to engage in those activities? There are plenty of companion robots now for the elderly who have isolations issues, but now what about the younger people? Well. . .

Now comes Fribo.

Roboticists from Yonsei University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Korea, have built a robot called Fribo, which is designed to provide a way for young adults who live alone to maintain daily connections with one another. This little robot listens to what goes on in your life and helps keep you connected with your outside world. This little guy has sensors for illumination, ultrasonics, sound, temperature and humidity. It also has LCD, speakers, a microphone, and the Raspberry Pi3. Fribo can hear all the noise going on around you and is actually able to determine what the noises are, from vacuum cleaners to which doors are opening and closing. It even recognizes your pets, from fish splashing in the aquarium to the dog barking. And he keeps it all separated from the noises you make. Interesting.

Now here’s the real interesting part: if you have a network of friends who all have Fribos, when one friend does anything at all in their home, their Fribo will communicate that to your Fribo and then your Fribo will tell you all about it. It tells all your friends’ Fribos all about it. But the message will not say who precisely has done that activity, only that someone has. If you’re interested in who it was, you can let them know by a communication system you can set up with everyone in your robot network and the robots will let that person know. If that person wants to talk, your robot will let you know who responded. So actually, Fribo is more for providing prompts that encourages social interactions, giving reasons for doing that. By doing that, Fribo gives you reminders from time to time that there are other people out there in the world who care about you.

The researchers let some three people friend groups of young adults try out an earlier version of Fribo for four weeks. The groups reported back that the robots helped them feel more connected to their friends, helped them feel as if they weren’t living so alone. Some of them even said it was as if the robot was a living being and they would even talk to it.

The researchers believe the participants participating in the study experienced a sense of realism of their friends because of the information delivered by Fribo in real time, which then brought a sense of co-residence. This indicates that Fribo provided them with virtual living space they felt they shared with their friends. The difference is, Fribo is a kind of middleman. Social distance from friends can be adjusted according to however the user wants. He/she can control the amount of information shared by setting up the robot. The user can filter out information that one does not want to share, such as in the bathroom or phone conversations. The robot can then selectively recognize those activities and eliminate them from its memory.

The test was done in Korea, so the researches aren’t sure how the robot will be received in other countries. They would like to try it out and see, but they also want to try a longer period of study, such as a year and with family groups as well as friend groups. A lot of interest is being generated, though, in this little guy because it’s likely to be inexpensive and everyone likes the privacy part. Quite frankly, I think it would be nice to be able to keep up with family and friends who live at long distances away from each other. Way to go, KAIST.


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