• Son Luu

Pet Work Translation Tools

Updated: May 11, 2020

Class: Designing the Absurd

Instructor: Pedro Oliveira


Design and create an object/device/gadget through the lens of absurd thinking that is un-useless for our current pandemic lifestyle.

Team: Sachiko Nakajima and Son Luu


  • Sachiko created prototypes for 2 ideas that can be implemented with her lovely pet hamsters

  • I created a sketch for 1 idea, and wish I had a pet to test it out, but I also brainstormed on any recommendations and instructions for our users when making and implementing these products.


1. Pets and pet owners spend more time at home during pandemic and the opportunities to create new creative ways to bond and interact between humans and animals

We all love our pets. They make us smile during our toughest times. They’re sources of unconditional love and adoration that heal us, especially during these stressful days of social distancing to cope with the ongoing pandemic. During this time, as pet owners spend more time inside their homes, there could be new creative ways for them to interact with their pets while accomplishing certain tasks and building new human-animal bonds at the same time.

2. Rube Goldberg Machines

The idea of Rube Goldberg machines - machines that are invented or created usually to perform a simple task in a more complicated way. This could be a great way to add absurd element to the interaction with a product in an interesting way. Despite the absurdity caused by the time it takes to finish a simple task, as you go through the process of accomplishing a task, you get to explore the mechanism of how everything works and functions together in order to get from A-Z.

3. Interesting mathematical linkages and mechanical designs

We were also inspired by many different mechanical linkage designs. The more we explored these linkages, the more we feel there have got to be interesting applications of them. The only challenge with re-creating a lot of these moving parts all functioning as intended, it may require exact measurement, mathematical relationships between all the components in the system, as well as sturdy materials used to build the entire system.

Here are a few that we found interesting and would like to explore them with our product design.

Slider Crank linkage

Peaucellier-Lipkin Linkage

Linkage design that converts horizontal rotating into vertical rotating motion

What it is

A series of products designed to let your adorable pets help out with household tasks while creating new and fun interactions between humans and animals, especially when you’re required to stay physically isolated at home.

The product designs will be presented in the form of a zine that shares with others brief descriptions and final forms in sketches that help visualize the final envisioned products.

As we start the process of making of these products, we will also be exploring and discussing the absurd aspects of the project in the current pandemic situation.

The Making

My project partner - Sachiko is a mathematician. Sachiko is very passionate about these math enabled mechanical systems. What also inspired her a lot with this project was her two lovely pets hamsters. Sachiko created the following prototypes with cardboard and tested with her hamsters. It was not easy but it was really fun and interesting.

During the ongoing pandemic, limited resources to properly prototype these system was definitely a challenge, so these are the rough cardboard models; however they did not work. We think the reason for it not to work could be because of the inaccuracy in calculating the measurements of how all the parts should fit together, as well as the soft materials being used instead of more sturdy materials.

Based on the mechanical movements of the designs we're interested in, we came up with a few ideas for the tasks that could be accomplished by these tools:

- anti-bacteria wiping for your phone or other surfaces

- record playing rotational motion

- possibly a massaging tool

Slider Crank mechanism cardboard prototypes

Below are some videos to show how the first rough prototypes work. They didn't work well, but we learned from it and would like to try improving them.

Sachiko tried to improve the prototypes and the following videos demonstrate the improved version of the movements created by the Slider Crank linkage.

Meanwhile, I was interested this mechanical design that translates horizontal rotation to vertical rotation. I didn't have a pet to test this model, but I can imagine how the components can be assembled and work with each other to create a functional system.

Other considerations:

Although these product designs may be fun and interesting, there is no doubt that these design functions would greatly impact our pets. As a result, I was also thinking about the process of making and implementing these designs and see of there is any recommendation to our users to ensure the safety for themselves and their pets.

These recommendations/instructions can also be presented in an absurd, whimsical way while being useful to the users.

The recommendations and instructions may address aspects such as what types of materials should be used, how to make sure the products do not cause any physical harm to the pets and the pet owners, when/where to use these products.

Final Models and Sketches of


Upon completing the zine for the projects, we reflect on the different "absurd" aspects of the final products:

Absurd Thinking: when thinking of our beloved pets, rarely do we think of using their working labor for any purpose. Physical activities that are usually associated typically involve play time by themselves with their toys or with pet owners. It is also not possible to apply pet labor in too many tasks, due to their limited strength and potentially limited understanding "work" related aspects such as safety, efficiency, accomplishing goals, etc.

So, to imagine a pet work , or pet labor usage scenario would need some out of the "typical use case", possibly some absurd approach to this concept.

Absurd Form: The form of these products are absurd in a sense that they are too complex, potentially too big for household chore tools. In addition, it not only requires exact measurements of the components when making the assembly, it but also requires an installation of everything.

Absurd Interaction: Not only do the tools take longer and more effort to complete required tasks, it probably also requires taking appropriate care of the pets to make sure they are not hurt by the tools or are scared away by the complicated mechanical parts and unexpected movements.

Absurd Function: The function of these tools are not "absurd" in nature. They are all to execute tasks that are common sense and useful in the current situation. The inspiration of these tool designs is more absurd than their functions. That is, the difficult time of crisis as we all experience together with each other and with our pets.

Drawbacks: The drawbacks of these tools mainly have to do with the need to test more and more, with the actual pets and a variety of them. It depends on what kinds of pets that some of these tools may or may not work with.

An obvious observation is that, our tools mainly apply to hamsters and take advantage of the simple rotational hamster wheel which can be translated into other mechanical movements. But currently, it is only for hamster wheels since these are the pets we were inspired by and have access to for developing ideas and testing. But even then, the hamsters are not consistent with their running activities, so it would only work when they enjoy running.

But in the end, despite these drawbacks and although the sketches and prototypes are rough versions, we really enjoyed coming up with fun ideas and applications for these interesting mathematical linkages. This project makes us love and enjoy our pets even more.

It was also a great opportunity to learn about these linkages that can enable movements that can be made into useful applications. We both would like to continue to explore this project and these mechanical movements moving forward.

I also love the final zine form of our projects. During the current difficult time with limited resources and limited ways to showcase our products, the zine helps communicate and share with others our ideas and inspirations.

We both hope to spread our passion for creative thinking and making to others even in the current crisis. Indeed, as absurd and challenging of a time it is now, it is a critical time to continue to stay inspired and stay creative.