Enter Boxie, a robot created by Alexander Reben, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab. Designed specifically based on its level of adorableness, Boxie, with its wobbly head and endearing, childlike voice, was able to get humans to interact with it and answer random “man on the street” interview questions, proving how one can easily leverage humans to complete goals.
Boxie could be described as the cardboard version of Pixar’s Wall-E, and how could anyone resist seeing that little thing wander aimlessly down the hall saying, “I need help!” They couldn’t, as you can see in the videos of people picking Boxie up after they hear, “I’m really short! Can you put me on the table, or hold me so I can see you?” (Aw. Yes, Boxie. I can!)
When Reben’s team tried building Boxie from white plastic, he said it looked “scarily skull-like,” according to New Scientist. Cardboard, however, was perceived as non-threatening, let alone that it’s lightweight, durable and incredibly inexpensive. Tack on those doe-like eyes, and you’ve created something that everyone wants to talk to. (Alright, maybe not everyone. One time Boxie was found in the trash, and another time it was almost kidnapped by a child.)
With a built-in script, Boxie would set off on its own at the beginning of the day, and spend six or so hours collecting video. “Hi, my name is Boxie,” the robot would say. “I am from the Media Lab, and I’m making a movie about MIT. On the side of my head are buttons, so you can give me instructions. If you would like to be part of the movie, press the green button. If you want me to go away, press the red button.” Over the course of a few days, Boxie had collected nearly 50 interviews, which Reben’s team has edited down to a five-minute documentary (below).
What Boxie was able to do was prove it doesn’t take expensive, sophisticated electronics to get humans communicating with machinery. At the end of the day, all it takes is cuteness to initiate and sustain conversation.
“Robot designs like Boxie aren’t going to replace the work-borgs on factory floors,” wrote John Pavlus, at Co.Design. “But for addressing the arguably more challenging problems of relating to human beings in unpredictable situations, Boxie shows that infantile likeability can be more effective than smarts.”
I’m sorry, it’s true. Just watch the documentary below, and try to deny Boxie’s cuteness.