Do our pets need us? Innovative AI project asks if tech could be the answer to cat happiness

Cat Royale by Blast Theory explores if artificial intelligence can take the place of humans

A brand new art project is set to bring cats and technology together to see how much pets really need humans and whether technology can learn how to make our four-legged friends happy.

Cat Royale from Blast Theory will swap the warm stroke of a pet owner’s hand with an AI-powered robotic arm – the centrepiece of a new installation in the form of a purpose-built cat utopia.

The utopia at Blast Theory’s Brighton studio has been designed specifically with the preferences and desires of our feline friends in mind. Designed using a colour scheme based on the spectrum of colour that cats see and surfaces designed to be compatible with feline movements and sensitivities, the space will feature walkways, cubbyholes, feeding stations and raised viewing platforms.

At the heart of the utopia, the robotic arm will provide play, comfort and companionship to three cats: Pumpkin, Clover and Ghostbuster, for extended periods of time over a 12-day period.

  The robotic arm will use toys, feathers and bells to interact with the cats as well as offering strokes and massages. It will also use a computer vision system to measure the cats’ happiness during interactions and use this information to try new activities.

Developed by Blast Theory artists Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj with support from researchers, animal behaviour experts and computer scientists from the University of Nottingham, Kings’ College London and the Open University, Cat Royale will explore how cats and artificial intelligence can interact, posing the question: do our pets really need us?

In an era of ever-increasing technological integration in the home, it makes sense to wonder if AI could be the next step in pet care. Matt Adams explained: “AI is already in our homes via smart speakers, smart TVs and robot vacuum cleaners. So how close do we want to get with AI? Are we ready to let it take care of our pets? In Cat Royale we hope three cats will show us some answers.”

Cameras will capture every movement to create an artwork which will premiere at World Science Festival Brisbane, before touring to Science Gallery London and Wales Millennium Centre. From Wednesday 22 March, updates on the cats’ activity in the utopia will be available online at the Blast Theory website.

Anyone interested in getting a daily email update from the Cat Royale utopia should sign up to the Blast Theory mailing list at:

Cat Royale has been developed in collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham and funded by UKRI via the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, co-commissioned by Queensland Museum for World Science Festival Brisbane and Science Gallery London.  

The Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Body at the University of Nottingham and animal behaviourists from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) are consulting with Blast Theory throughout the project to ensure the safety, wellbeing and care of Pumpkin, Clover and Ghostbuster.

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