Once Upon a Robot Competition Winner
Robotpetz go rogue!
by Samuel Debenham, aged 10
Robopetz; stroke, hug, chat and giggle,
Robopetz; watch them crawl, walk or wriggle.
Brand new Robopetz range out now, including the exclusive 2022 Roboparrot model featuring rainbow feathers and clever talking features.
Tom hastily flicked over the TV channel with a loud sigh. Since the tail end of the covid pandemic (no pun intended!), Robopetz had swept across the nation. They were designed to be an instant fix for the lonely and a convenient option for people returning back to the office. After adopting your Robopet, the only other cost was charging it overnight. It was a great investment Tom thought, though I’m sure the disgruntled vets, bankrupt pet food companies and, more importantly, Tom’s thrifty mum, disagreed.
Robopetz were everywhere: plastered over billboards, splashed across buses, advertised on television, radio and trending on social media. Even elderly Mrs Marrigold, Tom’s neighbour who could hardly be described as technically-savvy , was fussing over her grey Robocat as she tended to the imaginary weeds. Thoughtful and kind, Tom often mowed the grass for her and wheeled out the heavy bins.
“Here you go, Tom. You’re a good lad helping me,” said Mrs Marrigold gratefully as she gently pushed a £5 note into Tom’s hand. He’d felt uncomfortable accepting the money, but Mrs Marrigold was insistent. As he stroked Sassy’s silky, smoky fur, Tom excitedly realised that he now had enough money to buy the ex-display Robohamster from the local pet store.
That very afternoon, Tom hurried to the pet shop and adopted the Robohamster he had been dreaming about for weeks. It looked just like a real hamster of course, with a cute pink nose and long ginger fur with white splodges. It felt and sounded like one too; smooth long hair and an endearing squeak. Tom instantly bonded with his fluffy sidekick and spent hours setting up elaborate obstacle courses made out of cardboard tubes and lolly sticks. Crumbs would squeak contentedly and climb upside down along its cage, swinging from the bars like a daring superhero.
Weeks passed by in a whirr… but then one fateful morning everything changed. It was as if a switch had been flicked off inside all of the Robopetz and they had forgotten how to behave. They had gone rogue!
Crumbs was speeding along Tom’s bedroom floor, snapping wildly at his holey socks, school books and soft toys like a crazed pair of wind-up chattering teeth! As Tom carefully handled Crumbs and placed it back into its cage, it repeatedly climbed to the top and then let go like a reckless bungee-jumper. Meanwhile, Sassy was manically tunnelling through Mrs Marrigold’s garden like an escaped convict. The garden resembled a Whack-a-mole arcade game. The destruction didn’t end there. Before long, news was full of breaking reports of swearing roboparrots, toe-biting robomice, house-chomping roborabbits, water-spitting robogoldfish and malfunctioning robodogs. Eventually, it emerged that an extremely powerful virus had affected the entire population of Robopetz whilst they had been charging.
Reluctantly, the manufacturers collected the Robopetz and offered refunds. Tom moped around the house because he missed Crumbs and the fun they used to share together. His mum watched sadly as Tom pushed his food around on the plate for the umpteenth time that week.
“Right, Tom, we can’t carry on like this. I know Crumbs was special to you, but I think this time we should get a real pet,” Tom’s mum declared boldly.
After dinner, Tom’s mum drove them to the nearby animal shelter. When they walked through the entrance, Tom couldn’t believe his eyes. The place was full of unwanted, real-life pets. Suddenly, Tom felt a pang of guilt in the pit of his stomach. He had chosen to care for a robotic pet when he could have given a deserving animal, with thoughts and feelings, a proper home. Tom noticed other families and grown-ups looking up and down inside the enclosures. At least now, these pets would find their forever homes and Robopetz were a distant memory.
That’s how Tom got to be the proud carer of Trixie, a loyal greyhound with a calm temperament and ticklish tummy. As he walked Trixie, he stopped by to greet Mrs Marrigold. After the recent fiasco, Tom had helped restore her garden back to its full glory. It looked like a canvas of beautiful art with flowers blossoming in all colours of the rainbow.
“Morning, Tom. Have you met my new cat, Flossy? I adopted her from the animal shelter. Isn’t she lovely?” his neighbour asked as the purring tabby cat, wound its tail around her leg like a curly pipe cleaner.
Tom bent down to pat the friendly cat and it nudged its head up into his hand.
The boy smiled to himself as Trixie led him to the park. At last, people had realised…he had realised that nothing could ever beat the companionship of a real pet.
Illustrations by Hana Ayoob
Samuel has won a MakeBlock Codey Rocky Educational Coding Robot, contributed by sponsoring partner Pipebots; a tour of Heriot-Watt University’s National Robotarium in Edinburgh; a copy of “Rumaysa: A Fairytale” signed by competition judge Radiya Hafiza; and a printed copy of the winning story with bespoke illustrations by illustrator and science communicator Hana Ayoob.