Three different types of toy robots side by side, on the left one shaped like a teddy bear, in the middle a humanoid toy, and on the right one resembling a can.

Cuddly, expressive or functional, these bots aim to help their human keepers thrive. (Photos/Teri Weber)


Cute, Innovative Robots Are Coming to Help You Live Your Best Life

USC researchers are testing next-generation droids that can clean, explore and play.

November 09, 2021 Eric Lindberg

Sometimes you need a helping hand — and it doesn’t have to be a human one.

We want these robots to make the person happier, more capable and better able to help themselves.

Maja Matarić

Robot aides can tackle lots of useful tasks. They can assist a patient recovering from illness. They can help children with autism adjust to social situations, too. Across USC, students and researchers are teaming up to test out these benevolent robots.

“We want these robots to make the person happier, more capable and better able to help themselves,” says Maja Matarić, the Chan Soon-Shiong Chair and Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience and Pediatrics at USC. “We also want them to help teachers and therapists, not remove their purpose.”

And did we mention they can be pretty cute?

Here are some of our favorite next-generation helpers, all designed to make our lives safer, easier and more joyful.

Soft Skills

Blossom robot with a white knitted head and neck and black ears, eyes and nose
(Photo/Teri Weber)

For people with anxiety and depression, a cuddly companion can be invaluable — especially when it helps them practice breathing exercises and mindfulness. A robot called Blossom, designed at Cornell University, might soon offer support to USC students. “We’ll give the robot a bunch of tools to try with the user and see what they like and what works,” Matarić says. “This could be a really versatile and supportive buddy.”

Crawly Critters

A small robot modeled after a starfish with a yellow body and flexible white arms
(Photo/Christian Blair)

Inspired by starfish and octopi, USC experts designed these flexible robots to one day navigate unusual and inhospitable environments. Their creators envision sending the droids to inspect structures in space, search disaster sites and monitor hazardous materials.

Bot Buddy

A QT robot with a white and purple body and a screen showing a smiling face
(Photo/Teri Weber)

Matarić’s team has used a cute robot called QT to motivate children with cerebral palsy to exercise their wrists with a thumbs-up, thumbs-down number-guessing game and to encourage people with vision impairment to use a magnifier to read medication instructions or simply enjoy a good book.

Quiet Swimmers

An underwater robot with white and gold coloring and scales resembling a goldfish
(Photo/Yulin Yu)

When marine biologists study underwater life, their tools can sometimes unintentionally disturb the ocean habitat. So, student engineers devised a camera-equipped robot inspired by the sarasa comet goldfish — for less than $200 — to blend in with its scaly brethren.

Good Boy

A black doglike robot with a disinfecting spray nozzle on its back
(Photo/Quan Nguyen)

It can crawl, crouch, climb — and clean. A USC Viterbi team built the doglike LASER-D robot to help with COVID-19 disinfecting, but its inventors imagine it sprucing up shared office spaces, cleaning shopping centers and watering gardens, says Satyandra K. Gupta, Smith International Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science.

A New Friend

A smooth, rounded, white and gray robot with black eyes
(Photo/Teri Weber)

With a special headset, children can see Kuri’s thought bubbles and other augmented reality objects that help them learn through dynamic play. “We can make it look really expressive,” Matarić says. “Mixed reality with robotics is a whole new frontier.”