Sony is working on – or, at the very least, has given sufficient thought to the matter to warrant a patent submission – a "feeling deduction" robot designed to serve as a companion for gamers.
The patent, which was initially submitted in 2018, but appeared on the US Patent & Trademark Office's website earlier this week, details a control system, in the guise of a "human-type pet-type" robot or virtual reality companion, that's able to deduce a user's feelings – ranging from joy and anger to love and and surprise – through photographic and audio data, then respond appropriately using movement, sound, even speech.
"In order to construct a good relationship with other people," the newly revealed patent document explains, "it is said that a 'joint viewing experience' in which people see the same thing is effective instead of a 'face-to-face relationship'. It is known that by seeing the same thing at the same place and empathising with each other, the distance to the other people is shortened and affinity with the other people is increased."
Sony's patent then goes on to apply this principal to gaming sessions in which a specially designed reactive robot is present: "It is expected that the user's affinity with the robot is increased and motivation for playing a game is enhanced by the robot viewing the gameplay next to the user and being pleased or sad together with the user". Sony also envisages the robot being able to "participate in the game as a virtual player and…virtually operate the opponent team", which may result in the robot appearing to be sad if it loses a match.
The patent goes on to suggest the technology could be used to watch a movie or TV show, and that it's "expected that the user may enjoy content mere by viewing the content with the robot as compared to the case of viewing it alone."
Additionally, the patent suggests that, if a positive bond is formed between the robot and its user, the robot's functionality could be expanded considerably further, to include areas such as life management: "If the user is living an irregular life, the robot…may propose improvement of the life rhythm, for example, saying 'Let's go to bed soon'".
There's a lot more technical and theoretical detail in the patent document, for those wishing to prepare for a future of positive reinforcement from an animated plastic lump. If nothing else, it's worth checking out for the artist's rendition of one potential form for the robot, which looks like someone tried to design a Pokémon with a hangover.
I'm now harbouring a fantasy that this is why Sony hasn't shown off the PS5's form factor yet, and this time next year, we're all going to be trying to ignore a small fluffball on the sofa next to us which claps enthusiastically every time Ellie stabs someone else in the nostril.