SpacePet Idea and Robot Companions.

documentation, Projects

Someone will be first to put artificial pets in space; why not NASA and the US of A? The watchdog, canary in a coal mine, and stress reducing potential of an artificial pet is potentially significant for astronaut health and productivity. Artificial pets have proven to give some of the positive aspects of a living pet. The time is coming when more and more people will live long-term in places like the space station and planetary bases where real pets can not survive.

I’ve been passionate about supporting space exploration as long as I can remember. This idea grabbed hold of me when I was in graduate school in 2006. I was inspired by the way the Tribbles on the original Star Trek TV show were so attractive to the crew of the Enterprise – and to the viewers, that that episode became the most popular of the series. At the same time I’ve always been struck by how the necessarily-cold aesthetic of the International Space Station is in need of humanizing.


Hi-Seas Project

Mars habitation dome project in Hawaii.
Hi-Seas Project:
Simon Engler‘s work a Rover, Romibo and Pleo bots.
2 minutes in to this video is his covered in blue fur like the SpacePet: Discover Magazine, A Day In the Life of a Fake Astronaut


Three SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are up on the International Space Station right now waiting to be covered in green fur!

  • Main site:
  • Darpa site:
  • MIT site:
  • Zero Robotics competition site:
  • Smartphone usage recently:
  • Android Cellbots software:

Other Robots

  • TED How to Live With Robots series of talks.
  • Steve Yohanan’s PhD thesis, “The Haptic Creature: Social Human-Robot Interaction through Affective Touch.” Japanese companion bot, who’s already logged some zero-g time!
  • BINA48. The most concious?
  • Romibo:
  • PLEO robot companion
  • Paro, the Japanese therapeutic robot seal:
  • Nao Robot. Nao teaching math
  • ELIZA. One of the original “dumb” computer chat bots that often acted a therapist.
  • Cleverbot. Learning chat bot.
  • Oboto, virtual reality robot app.
  • SmartPhone Therapist article.
  • Sphero. A little waterproof ball that is controlled by a smart phone
  • Woogie. A plush smartphone cover/stuffed animal with an App.
  • Monster iPhone cover. Ion
  • Gizmodo Article: The Unholy Offspring of a Tribble and a Roomba,   Mocoro floor cleaning bot
  • iRobot’s programmable edu model:


  • “Simple behaviors elicit complex attachments.” Judith Donath, The Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior.
  • Burns, M.N., Begale, M., Duffecy, J., Gergle, D., Karr, C.J., Giangrande, E., & Mohr, D. (2011). Harnessing Context Sensing to Develop a Mobile Intervention for Depression. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13(3):e55. [PDF]
  • Science Explains Wilson the Volleyball. Story on emotions related to Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. New York Times, January 22, 2008, By John Tierney.
  • Emotional Robot article in Space Daily.
  • Robots Say the Damnedest Things. GQ Article
  • Talking Machines. RadioLab podcast
  • Article on the wonderful Nao robot’s emotional capabilities.
  • Polson Enterprises Virtual Pets Research bibliography.
  • The Center For Disease Control (CDC) pet health benefits brief.
  • Pet Therapy article at the Mayo Clinic.


I built a few prototypes in 2006 through 2008 while in graduate school at NYU. During that research I learned that MIT and NASA had built the SPHERES and my project went cold as I researched I how much time and energy that SPHERES took, and how well it was already being done. Every year though, I’d do a bit more research of ways to build a prototype because I love imagineering the idea of an artificial pet. I spent a lot of time imagineering a prototype that could be tested on a “vomit comet” plane during bouts of reduced gravity, specifically the Zero Gravity Corporation’s research flights costing about $7000.00.

I spec’ed out everything from ducted fan jets in RC planes embedded in styrofoam spheres to Arduino-powered hexacopter platforms put onto a sphere to repurposing DIY blimp kits. But fans spin, and in zero gravity, that will also spin the machine holding the fan.

I also thought of using Piezo fans as tiny thrusters, because they don’t spin.

My favorite wacky idea was using three gyroscopes to stabilize a sphere and control its orientation, and then have a few thrusters to move it. I was inspired by a Stanford University project that is exploring what they call Exploration Hedgehogs that use three internal gyros There exists a three-gyro experiment on the ISS using three CD players


  • Cat test in space: National Archives and Records Administration Record #68700, BIOASTRONAUTICS RESEARCH. 09/26/1947.
  • NASA test toys in space :
  • NASA Test of three spinning disks on ISS using CD players:
  • and to repurposing DIY blimp kits
  • 20 Favorite Movie Robots from


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