When Butter Robot asked Rick, “What is my purpose?” and Rick replied “You pass butter, welcome to the club pal!” who would have ever thought the despondent robot from Season 1, Episode 9 of the Emmy-winning show Rick and Morty would ever be making its way to a kitchen table near you.
But hey, it’s 2020, where anything is possible.
Adult Swim is bringing their animation to life with a toy that promises to be both sentient and hilarious. Their Limited Edition Butter Robot which will be numbered and signed by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, is vowing to parrot phrases heard around the house, express emotion as it reacts to its environment, surveil residents with its camera, become self aware while rebelling against commands, dance, and of course, pass butter.
Available for holiday preorder for $147 through November 30, then $197 through December 25, it’s expected to start shipping May 15, 2021.
Roiland unboxed his creation at the Adult Film Festival as he warned “it has a tendency to malfunction in the most eerie and spectacular way, Using AI neural networks and other cutting edge technology, this toy is way more than it seems.”
To find out more, I had a chance to check in with the mad scientist behind the project, Dr. Jacob Hanchar, co-founder and CEO of Digital Dream Labs.
Founded by Carnegie Mellon alums on a mission to make robots more fun, the scrappy startup acquired the assets of the defunct toy company Anki in January and launched a Kickstarter campaign to resurrect the platform for its two million Cozmo robots and 250,000 Vector robots.
Roiland, a Cozmo owner, was ecstatic.
“Justin contacted us out of the blue in April and said, I saw what you did to rescue Anki and I really like what you’re doing. Would you make Butter Robot for us?” Thrilled by the challenge, Hanchar gave an enthusiastic yes. “It usually takes two years of development time to do this. We got it done in just six months. I’m really proud of my team.”
Since sentience is considered years away on the AI roadmap by many industry experts, I pressed Hanchar to explain how they’re programming Butter Robot to be self aware. He responded, “We’ve loaded animations onto a chip with things he can do. When someone asks for the butter, he will hear them with his microphone, use object recognition in the camera to find the long rectangle, then use his seven servos mini-motors to bend down, move and grab the butter dish. Remembering the direction and proximity of the voice that requested the butter, he will drag it to them or fling it, depending on his mood.”
That’s right, depending on its interactions with others, this robot has the ability to choose to misbehave. “Most robots do exactly what they’re told, but Butter Robot is not going to be your companion, he’s going to be the guy that get’s your butter, that’s his basic function. As he becomes more sentient, he’s going to do whatever he wants.” Hanchar laughed. “Using a random engine generator, there are going to be various actions he can take that aren’t linear, for example, if triggered by an angry face, he might become an antagonistic and recite Sun Tzu’s Art of War.”
Describing Butter Robot’s emotion engine, Hanchar said, “Through machine learning, your mood affects his mood which then affects which logic gates he’s going to open and that’s going to then present various outcomes.” This means if you’re upset, best not to confide in Butter Robot Hanchar warned, “If he senses you’re sad, you’re not likely to get empathy from him and he might get depressed to the point where he stops responding. He might also tell someone what you said about them.”
This begs the question, can Butter Robot be trusted with a camera? After all, he can take photos while patroling your home. Hanchar gave assurances, “For speed and privacy, all image processing is on device, not in the cloud.”
If you’re starting to get a bit freaked out, it might be comforting to know that Butter Robot’s is about the size of a hamster, eight inches tall, 18 ounces light. He’s powered by AA rechargeable batteries, not tethered to an electric cord, and has been trained to recognize pets so he can roll a ball to a dog, bring toilet paper to those who need it, and move anything his size with a barcode.”
No one knows if Butter Robot will be making a return to Rick and Morty for Season 5, but one things fans can count on is come this Spring, Tik Tok is going to be flooded with tons of Butter Robot Gone Rogue videos. Tik Tok account coming soon.