From robots donning silicone faces to the sometimes headless Spot Mini, a popular aesthetic for robots seems to be uncanny and terrifying. But Nybble, the latest robot to surface the internet, is anything but scary.

Dreamed up by professor-turned-entrepreneur Rongzhong Li, Nybble is an adorable, laser-cut robot cat with a higher mission than cuteness; it also makes hardware coding accessible. The speedy, lightweight kitten currently boasts raising $103,520 on Indiegogo, or 207 percent of Li’s original goal for Petoi, the company he founded for the bot in July 2017. Li aims to ship the felines to their forever homes by April 2019.

High Tech, Low Cost

The work of Boston Dynamics and Sony’s Aibo impressed Li, but he saw an important barrier for others to enjoy the technology: price. Aibo costs almost $3,000, or the equivalent of a higher-end purebred living dog. Nybble only costs $250 and runs on two 3.7-volt lithium-ion batteries. (Right now, kits are even available for preorder at $200.)

Nybble factsheet
Nybble is part of a larger project founded by Li called OpenCat, which features other open-source cat robots.

To achieve a low cost, Nybble runs on an Arduino microcontroller, a cheap, electronic board that can connect to digital or physical objects. The microcontroller takes inputs, like a button click, which cues an output, like turning on a light. Its simplicity makes Arduino beginner-friendly while still being flexible enough to handle a complex project, like installing a fingerprint scanner to a garage door. For Nybble, this might look like purring when petted.

To add another layer of complexity, users can attach an A.I. chip, like Raspberry Pi (a tiny computer), to give their kittens better depth perception and personality, including “random mood” (read: Nybble can be just as unpredictable as a living cat).

Why Build a Cat in the Age of the Robot Dog?

Although Nybble’s body is wooden, its movement is anything but.

Nybble can stretch adorably, fold its legs to achieve full “loaf,” and do pushups. Thanks to its rubber paws and shock-absorbing joints, it can even fall from short distances, mimicking the “soft landing” of real cats.

“The biggest challenge was to realize quadruped movement of cats, which is a long-standing challenge in the field of robotics,” Li explains to The Next Web. “It requires seamless collaboration between software and high degree-of-freedom hardware. The research used to be dominated by big companies and laboratories.”

Nybble kit
Nybble assembles like a 3D puzzle. Instructions are included, but Li encourages users to try figuring it out for themselves.

A self-professed cat lover, Li felt that the unpredictability of cats aligned well with today’s mysteries in A.I. A cuter robot could also be less intimidating to newbies in the robotics space.

“I’ve been bored with those animal-shaped cars for years. Now kids can learn physics and coding on a new type of toy,” Li wrote on Hackster.io. “Robotics experts can focus on their walking algorithms on a much cheaper platform. Software developers can write AI-enhanced applications on a pet-like robot, rather than a ‘wheeled iPad.’”

Cats prototype one. On Nybble’s Indigogo, Li explains that with advanced hardware, the kitten could have larger friends — a dog, horse, or even an elephant one day.

Nybble is still in the prototype stage, but Li hopes Petoi can scale-up production and send out the first massive litter of wooden kittens: “I just want to fit this naughty buddy in a clean, smart, yet too quiet house.”

Photos via Rongzhong Li (1, 2)