Funktionide by Stefan Ulrich


German designer Stefan Ulrich has designed a conceptual shape-changing object to relieve loneliness, using artificial muscle technology.

For his thesis project Ulrich conducted research into plastics that change shape when an electric current is applied, called electroactive polymers.

Ulrich suggests that in the future these materials could allow objects to change shape and surface texture.

He envisions that people will turn to robots for the illusion of a living presence to satisfy their emotional needs.

Ulrich undertook two months of research with Festo - a German supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technology - and Swiss material sciences and technology institution EMPA, exploring the potential impact of new materials on future products.

Watch a movie illustrating the Funktionide concept gently changing shape as if breathing here.

Watch a movie demonstrating the technology here.

Here's more from Stefan:


Funktionide – New Promises

Based on an intensive two month research (in cooperation with FESTO Germany and the EMPA Switzerland) concerning artificial muscles (electroactive polymers) my work reflects upon how new technologies will change future products (and society), and the way we interact with them.

One day active materials such as electroactive polymers will drastically change the way we perceive products. Products will gain new dimensions ranging from changing tactile surfaces over active membranes to morphing shapes. Products of the future will be "alive" in a way. The results of that research actually led to create a vision of how the future of product design might evolve under the given premises.

One of those future products is the so called "Funktionide“. It is an amorph object whose intention is to provide the owner with an atmosphere of presence thus counteracting the feeling of loneliness. In the visions future people are lonely and with all the new dimensions products offer, humans will eventually turn to "robots" for emotional satisfaction.

This gives rise to a number of questions: What happens if products that were proposed as a relief against social isolation begin to become the solution?

How will it affect human interactions if people become more and more focused on their products? What will these products look like, or more important how will they behave? Etc.

In this way the works intention is to create a provocative picture for discussion, which enables us to question how much we want technological products to satisfy our emotional needs. To ask these questions will become part of the responsibility of future product design.

The ambiguity of this scenario is, that it could be understood as a solution to a wide range of different kinds of loneliness. But it might as well be understood as a scenario which should be avoided by all means possible.

Posted on Monday October 5th 2009 at 3:39 pm by Brad Turner. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • fpc

    bavarian weisswurst anyone?

  • The Toothfairys Lovechild

    If you buy one of these you will definitely need it to relieve lonliness!

  • Thanks but no thanks. I’d rather have a cat.

  • rene

    this project paints a bleak picture of the human condition

  • Jan

    Alder, geh' mehr unter Leute! Wie traurig ist das denn…

  • gab xiao

    oh my God!…

  • dude

    frankly – brilliant!

  • Bear

    i prefer a woman :)

  • Internautas

    I’m afraid, that people woud feel even lonelyer with such objeck… Atleast me for sure.. Although, beautiful idea…

  • Crusty the Clown

    Wow.. it looks like a giant douche bag

  • aeolus

    a cry for help

  • Hars

    read this whilst listening to the first track…..

  • BenBen

    ingenious – but frightening.

  • Enzo

    Interesting technologie; But I believe that a real “human being” as no similitude with this. (smell, warm, heartMovement…)

  • Enzo

    You seem to be lonely…

  • capucine

    OMG that fat sausage is now your fiancée ?

  • says

    Scary, lot of electrical stuff underneath!

  • PG!

    can it wash dishes?

  • Xit

    This artistic statement works like a punch in the stomach, just seeing that object makes me feel lonely and cold.

  • Whoa. Cuh-reepy.

  • Money would be better spent on visiting a shrink.

  • It's the end of human interaction.i prefer a friend or an animal…

  • N

    Maybe its more for short term use rather than to relieve a lifetime of loneliness. Do you think this will stop my boyfriend cheating on me when I go away for 6 months? If so I’m happy to have it take my place.

  • Firstly I love the research and the technology behind it… Personally products to combat loneliness are always utterly strange to me, surely when loneliness occurs you realise a need for social interaction and thus find a social interaction be it a jaunt to the pub/bar. When this is not possible (4am in the workshop) i find the radio provides the required human touch to keep me going. For people who find they cannot find a social interaction be it physical or virtual are therefore probably a little bit travis bickle.

    Great technology!!!

  • mil

    I prefer facebook

  • Bev

    What happens if it breaks down and you have to get it to a repair shop?

    Or worse yet, what do you do if your blob gets lonely?

  • I am with most of the other people here and think the whole loneliness thing is droll at best. From a design point of view the concept of materials such as electroactive polymers blows my mind but if that causes everything to look like big white blobs I am going to be upset and then truly depressed with the world around me.

  • Moll

    Bear … write I prefer woman too … )))

  • xxx

    Hmmm , i think it’s kinda scary, cause it reminds me of
    caterpillars and sea cucumbers. or any living things that
    looks like a moving piece of muscle.
    if it had a different form it might look cuter and more inviting
    to hug or touch.

  • tJCoughlin

    Wonderful and ingenious — the counterpart to the child’s stuffed bear or doll taken to bed for comfort, I think this concept obliterates or at least ameliorates the stoicism adulthood is expected to endure and adopt in social or interpersonal situations in many cultures. Yes, it is artificial, but I do not think that is the point. Bravo to Ulrich!

  • Bernard

    They should make a hole in it

  • I feel sad just reading about it and worry that owning it would only cause me to sink deeper…

  • g-mann

    he invented a pillow?

  • Serena Trabalza

    Great job: good research, nice concept (not really about the “relieving of loneliness”, but about all the other possibilities and evolutions.)

  • Think Svutlana this be every heterosex male dream come true: huge breast that seem for come for life. Can pat breast. Can put breast on lap. Can sleep on top breast. If breast come with beer refrigerator, it be good for go.

  • matt

    Think of the potential market in japan, that is all.

  • Hirudinea

    … When a man loves a larva…

  • I think it’s more conceptual art than actual product! I don’t expect to see it on late night TV any time soon.

  • marcus
  • Mansha

    This guy looks a little too in love with his sack. Disturbing.

  • Wouldn't it just be better to be dead?

  • Bewunderer

    None but Fools! Who are you to make this wonderful expression of art bad!

  • Is it people who need the robot- or is it the robots who need love? o.0

  • Dumdidumdi

    Add a vagina and tits to it and it’s perfect.