'Petting Zoo' Exhibit Lets Visitors Interact With Intelligent Robot Pets

The exhibit features three robotic "pets" that interact with the visitors.

Oct. 15, 2013— -- This is not Old MacDonald's petting zoo. There are no chicks to cradle or horses to brush. Instead, the London-based Minimaforms' latest exhibit, "Petting Zoo," has visitors playing with robots that look like slinkies suspended from ceiling lights. The exhibition is currently hosted at the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France.

Theodore Spyropoulos, who both founded Minimaforms and worked on this exhibit with his brother Stephen, said that "Petting Zoo" plays with the idea of an intelligent environment. "The exhibit was an opportunity to try and find ways to animate a space that participates with people," he told ABC News.

The exhibit itself consists of three separate "pets," as Spyropoulos calls them. "If an individual comes into their space, they will orient themselves to acknowledge him or her," he said. "They make curling movements to bring the individual closer together."

The pets start off as being inherently curious and learn to adapt to a variety of different human behaviors. For example, the pets may be friendly when only one or two people approach them, but become anxious if they see too big of a crowd.

"If the space is flooded with people, the pet will exhibit more anxious behavior, like shrinking away from the visitors," said Spyropoulos. He also said that the pets also respond with different colors and sounds.

"Petting Zoo" is slated to stay in the FRAC Centre until February, though the museum is looking to extend its stay. In addition, Minimaforms has been offered the opportunity to bring their exhibit outside of France, though the pets may behave differently depending on where they are. "The pets take on the characteristics of their respective context," said Spyropoulos. "They could radically exhibit different personalities depending on the city they're in. We would be very interested to see how they would evolve in New York."