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I’m guessing most of us see the future of robotics as one of two things: friendly domestic servants who help with our household chores, or menacing overlords who take over the planet and subject us to slavery. Did anyone have a cowering, neurotically-spinning humanoid machine on their list? No? You have apparently yet to be charmed by the Phobot, winner of the Human-Robot Interaction 2008 Student Design Competition in Amsterdam.

I’m being facetious, of course. The robot was designed to help children overcome their fears by demonstrating systematic desensitization. First, Phobot is exposed to a larger, scarier robot. It displays fear by retreating and spinning in circles. Then it’s exposed to a robot its own size, gets comfortable with it, and goes on to meet progressively larger robots in phases. The idea then is to have kids help Phobot overcome his fears through those graded steps and learn to overcome their own phobias the same way.

It was built using the Lego Mindstorms system, so if you’re robotically inclined, you can contact the team for instructions on how to code and build your own.

Below, a video of the little guy in action.

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