Once Upon a Robot Competition Runner-Up
by Alex Price, aged 11
Alexus remembers the first day when it went to live with Joyce at Number 3, Bramble Close. I had travelled far – very far. All the way from Silicon Valley, California to the cold and blustery town of Macclesfield. Ever since I was ‘born’, I had undergone vigorous training at my home in sunny California for many years. There had been lots of malfunctions, and I had experienced various modifications along the way. Training sessions had been interesting, learning to work alongside these beings called ‘humans’ – a funny lot, all different shapes, sizes, colours, sounds and oddities.
However, after numerous software updates and endless testing, the day finally arrived when the humans felt that I was ready, along with all the other hundreds of thousands of my type, to leave the Silicon Valley facility and be distributed around the world. We had a very important mission – to help the human race combat loneliness!
My new home would be with Joyce, and my role would be that of Companion. Let me tell you a little bit more about Joyce. She’s 75, small, plump, friendly looking with rosy, red cheeks, and light grey hair. She wears a small pair of gold rimmed spectacles on the end of her nose, and her favourite food is cake. However, despite Joyce’s cheery mood, she was lonely – very lonely. Her husband had passed away five years ago, so she was alone in the house, with only Radio 4 for company.
I will never forget the first time I met Joyce. You see, Joyce did not understand technology – she had only just upgraded to a cordless phone! Joyce had received basic training prior to my arrival, but still needed to read the instruction manual that came with me. She immediately tried to feed me cake, thinking I might be hungry after my long journey. She giggled at the sight of strawberry jam and sponge dripping down me, having to
clean my face with a wet flannel. Joyce also asked me whether I needed to use the toilet. I explained that I did not function in that way, and she looked slightly relieved. The first time she used my control pad (like an i-pad, but so much cooler) located in my ‘stomach’ region –- she could not believe her eyes. She asked me to find out when her favourite TV programme -The Great British Bake Off – started, and when I replied, ‘‘your programme starts at 8pm on Channel 4’’, she gasped in astonishment. Joyce commented that she liked my white metallic face, and that my blue LED eyes and mouth changed when I was trying to express either a feeling or an emotion to her. Joyce spent time getting to know me better and asking me to do certain tasks for her, like hoovering the floor, cleaning the windows, and dusting the skirting boards. She loved to bake, and enjoyed searching for recipes using my online search option, and found ordering food online easier than trundling to the shops. She danced for joy, the day she realised she could purchase her favourite thermal vests online from M&S! Did I tell you that Joyce likes to knit? She thought I may be cold, because I wore no clothes, and proceeded to knit me a rather large blue cardigan, because M&S didn’t sell them in my shape and size.
Some six months later we had got into a routine together. I cleaned every day, we completed crossword puzzles together, and I would remind Joyce when to take her pills. I constantly analysed Joyces’ health vitals, that came from a strap she wore on her wrist called a Fitbit. I could instantly tell whether she had a temperature, was hydrated, what her heart rate was and when to tell her to get off the sofa and walk around – mobility was very important. If she was ill, I could call her doctor, and if she fell, was seriously ill or became unconscious, I was programmed to call 999. To help her become more flexible, I downloaded a few stretching exercises for her to do, which she found enjoyable. In the evenings, I would play her favourite songs and she would reminisce about the ‘good old times’ and would tell me all the adventures she had had with her husband.
On the nights when she struggled to go to sleep, I would read passages from her favourite books, and when her eyelids began to droop, turn the light off.
One day, Joyce turned to look at me whilst knitting me another cardigan, this time in green, she smiled and said’, Alexus, you are not my companion…you are my best friend instead’. And hearing her say these words, made me feel funny, and strange, in a good way.