I did not grow up with cats, so the past three months since adopting one have been flecked with trial, error, and disappointment. It short, I don’t think he likes me much. Over drinks recently I commiserated to a friend about his frustrating and sometimes aggressive tendencies. “Well,” she said flatly after my list of grievances ended, “that’s a cat.”
She’s right, of course. But what would a perfectly compliant cat even look like?
To some degree, Japanese startup Yukai Engineering has built just that in Qoobo, which retails for ¥10,000 (or £65). Resembling a small ottoman made of faux fur and foam, the lap-sized pet replacement robot sports a tail that wags in response to how vigorously the body is petted. Intended for “those with pet allergies and apartment dwellers who can’t own pets,” the company sent me a prototype following its successful Kickstarter campaign. (However, Qoobo will only be available to general consumers in Japan and the US for the time being.) With no face, no legs, and no incorrect orientation, it curls up contentedly above the uncanny valley similar devices, like Aibo, haplessly tumble into. On paper, Qoobo outpaces a real cat in nearly every way.
In the week I tested Qoobo it never once left claw marks on furniture, or kneaded holes in the bedding. Qoobo doesn’t engage in heart-stoppingly dangerous behaviour, like leaping towards a lit stove only to show hostility at being denied the opportunity to self-immolate. Food, shots, and expensive vet visits were also non-issues. Qoobo never swatted my belongings off a shelf, yowled at ungodly hours of the morning, or deposited the contents of its non-existent stomach onto the hardest thing in range to clean.
In only one instance did Qoobo require any commitment on my part whatsoever. That’s when its batteries died. Extras were thoughtfully packaged in by Yukai, and, along with additional tail movements, a rechargeable cell is intended as a feature for the production model expected to ship later this year.
My cat, a bona fide arsehole, will tolerate approximately forty seconds of petting before sinking his teeth into the sensitive, yielding flesh of whatever hand is closest. His moods swing between the equally undesirable poles of aloof and violent. To add insult to injury, the emotional terrorist rebuffing all affection in my own home is immensely cute.
Well, that’s a cat.
What Qoobo fails to do is provide a sense of companionship—the largely accidental language developed between two sentient creatures whose grasp of their surroundings are so irreconcilably different as to feel at first impossible. Why does this bizarre animal ignore toys made specifically for its enjoyment, eagerly chewing through iPhone chargers instead? It is a mystery. Why do I continue to watch Marvel’s Runaways, a show I find plodding and dull? My cat is both the worst and only observer capable of interpreting this worrying behaviour.
Despite this chasm of understanding, our quirks are slowly becoming legible to one another. After work when I find him waiting at the door, he needs to play. When I’ve come down with a winter flu, somehow he knows to curl up next to me. Neither of us fully know what we’re doing. It works once in a while.
Nice work pillow. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
To power it on and off you flip a switch in a hole hidden besides its tail. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
Qoobo’s insides. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
Chilling out. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
It DOES enjoy scratches. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
Still chilling. Image: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo
There’s no denying Qoobo provides a sense of comfort. Its tolerance to a level of compulsive petting most cats detest might make it viable for relieving anxiety. And, if the eagerness with which my colleagues vied to nuzzle an anthropomorphic pillow is any indicator, it’s damned cute. It’s not a cat, but Qoobo isn’t really trying to be.
- It is not a cat.
- It retails for ¥10,000 in Japan (£65), but unless you know someone there or in the US, you'll have to wait to get your hands on it.
- It comes in grey or brown.
- It is very soft.