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


Thoughts on Private Space Entrepreneurs, Industry, Exploration and Sustainability


In progress…

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I’ve been following the private space industry since I covered the DC-X Launch in 1993 in White Sands, New Mexico and saw rocket lanches and bought stock in SpaceDev before it went private.

I’m using this post as a place to keep my links and share them with interested people. Suggest a source of info if you want in the comments!

Space is the place! Our backyard beckons. Many doubters persist, ironically often environmentalists. I say ironic, because I feel that biggest gains in sustainable practices will come in a large part from experiences we have in space. Solar panels, recycling (everything), small efficient living space design, weather, crop, and water data, all benifit greatly from knowledge we’ve gained by using satellites and spaceships. If you look at the data, research, benefits of satellites and science in space, and the future of research, sustainability, recycling, solar, mining, I  believe space becomes a natural place.

There’s two other bigger reasons. One, those few humans who’ve seen the earth from orbit almost all report a moment that forever leaves them more sensitzed to our planet as fragile, rare, interconnect system. Two, the radiation soaked, life-as-we-know-it devoid, vacuums of space is a much less negative impact to our environment as a place to mine for ore then a forest in a jungle

Here’s what I’m tracking and why:


Private space companies

Private space companies that trade publically

  • Orbital Sciences (ORB)
  • Astrotech (ASTC)