Amagami Ham Ham is for when a cuddly dog is not enough and a squeeze of a tiny plush dog doesn’t comfort, not in the same way as, say, you or someone else nibbling on your finger.
I first saw this strange little robot creature during CES 2022. It was a cuddly follow-up to Yukai Engineering’s equally strange but perhaps no-less endearing Pet Petite Qoobo robot, which was basically a fur pillow with a wagging tail.
This bot, though, was different. It’s based on Live Heart’s Nemu Nemu series, which gives the two designs (a dog and a cat) fairly specific, almost Anime-style looks. And instead of soothing through vibrations and tail wagging, Amagami uses its mouth, which is just the right size for the tip of most any finger, child, or adult.
As the name, which means “soft biting” in Japanese, implies, the little dog will chew on your fingertip when you insert it into the small mouth.
Right. It sounds…um...unusual.
Back in January, I had only photos and a GIF to understand this oddity. Now I have Amagami Ham Ham on my desk.
Yukai Engineering actually sent me a pair of plush toys to illustrate the two design styles. I decided to unbox just one of them
First of all, the dog, which lists for between $68 and $86 (it's mostly available on eBay), is, at maybe 8-inches tall, smaller than I expected. The body is soft and plush, though not furry. There’s a long zipper on the back, which I opened to reveal a battery pack. Amagami Ham Ham takes three AA batteries (sold separately), and there’s a single power switch on the box. I put the batteries in, switched it to “on,’ reinserted the plastic box into the dog’s body, and zipped it up.
Amagami Ham Ham is, by default, in a somewhat slumped over sitting position, and instead of beady eyes staring back at me, its eyes are permanently closed, as if it's alseep or dreads what’s to come.
I gently held the back of the dog, while gingerly inserting the tip of my index finger into its mouth. Along the bottom edge, under the fabric, I could feel a stiff edge, almost like smooth teeth. After a moment, Amagami Ham Ham’s lower jaw moved up to gently bite on my digit. Even through its fur and stuffing, I could hear the sound of its motors
I pulled out my finger and stared in disbelief. It occurred to me that the robot has a pressure sensor in the mouth, but I couldn’t quite tell if it’s in the back or along the roof or bottom of the mouth.
Placing my finger back in the toy’s mouth, I noticed that it was now nibbling with more enthusiasm, its tiny jaw bobbing up and down. There was never enough pressure to hurt or even keep my finger stuck in there, not even enough to bother a small child (I think), but I could feel what it was doing.
There are two algorithmically chosen nibble modes and I could tell that the dog was alternating between slow, rhythmic biting and enthusiastic nibbling.
Yukai engineering believes that this sensation of gentle nibbling is comforting. They compare it to a baby or small animal nibbling on your finger. Uh, ok.
I decided to let some co-workers try it out. All were fascinated, startled, and somewhat uncomfortable. They predicted bad things for Amagami Ham Ham if left unattended.
Later, I presented the dog to my wife and, without explanation, told her to put her finger in his mouth. She said it was as if Amagami Ham Ham was breast-feeding on her finger. I don’t think she liked it.
I can say with some confidence that there is nothing else quite like Amagami Ham Ham. The plush dog robot with the finger-hunger mouth stands alone in the annals of toys, robotics, and self-care technology.
I don’t know what to make of it, though I am trying to write this while my thumb is stuck in Amagami Ham Ham’s mouth.
Correction: I was later informed that the toys are a dog and cat, not two bears. I've updated the story to reflect that fact and regret the error.