South Korea's DONA is one of several robots currently being developed to make money–simply by asking for it.

Robots can do so much these days. They can beat us at games, help us fight wars, perform operations, dance, and now, beg for money. The videos below feature three robots whose jobs are to ask people for money. As you’ll see, they do their job quite effectively.

An indefatigable begging machine on wheels, the very cute DON-8r scoots around as children chase after it with their coins. Kids and adults alike are drawn to its teddy bear appearance and cute voice that grabs their attention with a “Hellooooo!” It says “Thank you” and its head lights up when it receives a coin (one of the kids in the video can’t give it money fast enough!). Built by Tim Pryde, a product design student at the University of Dundee in the UK, DON-8r is used to raise charity for the Dundee Science Center. Its interactive features make for an effective attention and money-getter. Pryde mentioned in his blog that DON-8r raised £25.86 (over $40) in 9 hours. Not too shabby. When presented with the oft-asked question of “How do you know no one’s going to steal it?” Pryde mentions that someone’s monitoring the robot at all times. The robot knows not the untrustworthy ways of the humans in its midst.

Apparently the rate of urban donation in Korea is disturbingly low. To address this, various industrial design and robotics experts collaborated to create DONA: Urban Donation Motivating Robot. As you’ll see in the video, her interactions are much more sophisticated than DON-8r. Like a pathetic little red riding hood, she beckons the change from your pockets with endearing, blinking eyes. It’s kind of funny to watch her peer into the coin jar, blinking at it as if to say, “It’s empty. What’s up with that?”

Although not shown in the video, DONA can actually roam around like DON-8r. An ultrasonic sensor detects when a person is within 50 cm. A signal is sent to the motherboard and she starts waving her arms. When change is given she bows a thank you. It’s nice work, and it seems as though these Koreans have no problem forking over their won (you know, the currency of South Korea). I wonder if the Salvation Army collectors wouldn’t benefit from giving DONA a shift or two. At least they wouldn’t have to stand in that cold all the time.

Gimme’s my favorite by far. It’s just weird and beautiful at the same time. I think you’ll agree that it’s not the obvious choice for automated panhandling. With its one, blood-shot eyeball and rusted metal, it looks more like a Tim Burton vision than the won’t-you-please-give cuteness of DON-8r and DONA. Gimme’s creator, Chris Eckert, is a DaVincian type who combines mechanics and robotics to make art. The eyeball is equipped with a motion tracker and will stare you down until you toss some change into the cup–or run away screaming. Like DONA, Gimme has an ultrasonic sensor to know when someone’s near. I highly recommend checking out some of Eckert’s other works on his website.

Some people might be disturbed by developers sending robots out to do their dirty work. But I think robotic panhandling presents a great opportunity to explore and develop robot-human interaction. Cute obviously works, but what else? Guys like Chris Eckert are already thinking outside the box.

video 1: DON-8r
video 2: DONA
video 3: Gimme

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.