What’s in a name? The story behind Furhat Robotics

The power of a proper noun is not to be underestimated. So why on earth are we called Furhat Robotics?

It’s one of the very first questions we get when we meet new people. Some think at first it’s a person’s name, or perhaps a foreign word. But no. It’s much simpler than that.

Furhat means fur hat. Yes, a hat made of fur. And there is a reason for it.

So we decided to set the record straight, and give you the full story, once and for all!

Furhat Gen 1 wearing its hat
The Gen 1 Furhat Robot — looking cold, as usual.

Let’s start with a simple fact: Sweden is cold. But as the Swedes say, “there is no bad weather — only bad clothing.” And Furhat Robotics was born in Stockholm, and, in fact, in winter.

And that winter, when the full concept of our social robot had become clear to us, we had made a commitment to showcase the product for the first time at the London Science Museum.

There was just one problem: There was no robot. We had two months on us to build it.

So we started working on the first prototype. At first it was just a wooden box (the “torso”) to house the computers, and the lower neck servomotor. The face still had a bulky projector and a mirror. The robot had a plastic face, but no skull. The head had a mirror extending 25cm out of it, and cables coming out of all directions. It was very…prototypical.

Yeah…not our best look…

Just 48 hours before traveling to London, the system was running for the first time, as we put it up for “public testing” in the kitchen of the lab for one day. It was a snowy, cold winter day, and we were discussing that day how to “brand” the product, and make it presentable.

One of the students that day had forgotten his fur hat at the office. It was fate — and a perfect fit!

Not only did it hide all the cables sticking out every which direction, but it also drew attention to the face — the part of the robot we had invested all of our knowledge in bringing to life.

It may have been an accidental, last-minute solution… but it was also a hit. Our robot sported the new accessory for its London debut and people — including us! — started referring to the robot as Furhat.

People were asking each other, “Did you see the robot with the fur hat?”

Others asked us, “Is it cold because it lives in Sweden?”

After that we made sure Furhat was always equipped to talk about his hat — and the weather, which is a very common topic of conversation in Sweden!

Alright, you may think at this point, that’s all well and good for a nickname — but why christen the entire company after that incident?

Good question.

We went back home after the expo, and had to present the findings from the showcase. The robot then did not have a name — it was still an experiment — but everyone was still talking about the fur hat.

The nickname stuck. Anyone who has ever tried to get rid of a nickname they’ve had will understand the hurdle. Everyone was already calling the robot Furhat anyway. And the more we thought about it… well, the more we loved it, and the more it made sense!

We could have been a transitory moment, a joke. We could have gone for a cute, approachable name. Or a Greek name, sounding elegant and wise. Or something modern and techy and cool. But it was too late!

We liked that the name combines something organic and something technical — kind of like Apple did. It’s the same juxtaposition we would later create in our logo, with the geometric form of technology supporting the round, organic symbol of humanity. The Furhat part feels soft and natural — it’s a stark but meaningful contrast to Robotics. It’s our yin and yang.

Humans associate fur with being warm, cuddly, safe, nice, and cute — adjectives that are at the core of our vision for social robots, but are far from how people see robots historically.

We want to build a new technology that is friendly, safe, social, and warm.

Fur was something that carried our brand values.

The Gen 1 robot wearing its iconic fur hat.

We did have a few other ideas — like SocioBotics. We even bought the domain name. But every time we tried to google that, the search engine would immediately recommend the word “sociopath”. So that ended quickly…

We definitely prefer Furhat. And the name does say something about our roots, and our identity as a company. It’s hard to imagine that we would be Furhat Robotics today if we had been working in a subtropical climate like Hong Kong. A pair of sunglasses left behind would not have been nearly as helpful.

Furhat also comes from Sweden. And, well, Sweden and cold weather are synonymous. Furhat, wearing his furry hat, gives homage to its birthplace.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

But we dare say a social robot by any other name would not be the charismatic, whimsical, revolutionary robot which has made such a splash around the world, and which we have come to love.

But yes, we’re partial.

– Samer Al MoubayedJonas BeskowGabriel Skantze, and Preben Wik, the founders of Furhat Robotics

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