Meet Robot Dogs: Companion and Worker

Dogs are man’s best friend, but some people can’t have them as pets for various reasons.

Someone in their family might be allergic to them, or the place they’re staying won’t allow pets.

Whatever the reasons, technology has an answer for it: robot dogs.

In this article, we’ll see how robot dogs enhance our lives in many aspects, not just as companions but also as service dogs.

We’ll be looking at what makes each robot dog unique and what goes into making one of them.

Robot dogs resemble dogs, but not all of them are intended to be a companion. Boston Dynamics Spot and BigDog are examples of robots that do work.

This article also looks at what’s next for robotic dogs and what goes into your average robot dog.

What are Robot Dogs Designed For?

Robot dogs are generally designed to be a companion for humans or as working robots.

Sony’s AIBO is an example of a robot focused on entertainment and companionship rather than doing a job, while Boston Dynamics’ BigDog and LittleDog were designed for carrying loads and research, respectively.

These aren’t the only possibilities with robot dogs, though, with service dogs being an ideal possibility.

Service dogs are expensive to train and look after, so having a robot dog where most of that effort is lessened will help the owner of those dogs pretty well.

The Technology that Goes Into Robot Dogs

Since robot dogs are an area of research as well, all sorts of new technology like LIDAR and computer vision, among others, are tested with these robots.

Consumer robot dogs have far more familiar technology like a more rudimentary voice recognition system, seeing what’s in front of it, and somewhat limited quadripedal movement.

Fitting all of this into a robot makes it heavy, so don’t expect a robot dog to jump around as a real dog would; that and the locomotion that these robots use aren’t able to do so.

Movement-wise, some of the more advanced robots use limbs with multiple joints, which are used to move the robot dog just like any other animal.

Some of the consumer-grade models use wheels instead, which simplifies the systems that they use.

Some are also capable of barking and emoting like dogs, but you’d mainly see these in robots designed for companionship or entertainment.

Sony Aibo

Ever since Sony revealed the Aibo back in 1999, the public has been fascinated by a robot dog that has influenced popular culture even today.

For most people, the first thing that would pop up in their minds when they hear ‘robot dog’ would be the Aibo.

Sony hasn’t stopped releasing these cute robots, with updates frequently coming to the consumer robot dog.

The newest one retails at around $2,900, so it isn’t exactly cheap but what it can do makes up for the price.

It has an image-recognition camera on its nose, a time-of-flight sensor in its mouth, and a ranging and motion sensor on its belly.

It’s jam-packed with sensors so that it can see and navigate itself in its environment.

Like a real dog, Aibo has a personality to match, which changes how you interact with it, but has none of the high maintenance you expect from an actual dog.

The Aibo is good for keeping children occupied by something other than a screen, and if you don’t want a large dog near your children yet, the Aibo is a good alternative.

i-Cybie Robot Dog

i-Cybie is a commercial robot dog with quite a few features that you would expect from a robot dog.

It can respond to your touch, sounds, voice commands or any movements that you make.

The unique thing about Cybie is that it “grows” the longer you use it, so it starts out as a puppy when you first set it up, and as time goes on and it interacts with you and its environment, it grows.

The robot will respond positively or negatively depending on what you say and how the dog is feeling at the moment, but this feature is pretty rudimentary.

It can plug itself into its charging dock when it starts to run low on batteries and to save charge; it can go to sleep after you stop using it for more than 30 minutes.

Cybie isn’t as powerful or feature-rich as the Aibo, but it’s way less expensive.

WowWee CHiP

Credit: wonderland_belgorod on Instagram

The WowWee CHiP is another companionship-focused robot dog that can see what’s around it and respond to what you say.

It’s able to see and hear what you’re saying and understand some gestures as well.

The robot dog also has Low Power Bluetooth that connects with your phone.

This robot uses wheels instead of legs and uses an IR camera to navigate your home.

Certain areas of the robot have capacitive touch sensors, which lets it know you’re touching it.

It can also sense if it is being picked up with a combination of gyroscope and accelerometer.

The CHiP is also less expensive than the Aibo, making it pretty accessible as a toy.

BigDog

The first military or service dog we’ll see today is Boston Dynamics’ BigDog.

BigDog is a DARPA-funded project intended to help squads of soldiers carry more equipment and ammunition when deployed out on the field.

It is a robotic pack mule that extends the capability of a military unit.

It has legs that help it move across terrain that no wheeled or tracked vehicles can, and all joints are controlled and checked by the robot thousands of times a second to be as stable as possible on any terrain.

It can carry up to 340 pounds up a 35-degree incline and showed a lot of promise.

Unfortunately, DARPA abandoned the program because the gas engine it used was too noisy, and it needed that engine to power itself.

LittleDog

The LittleDog robot by Boston Dynamics is intended for research and serves as a good base for research in quadripedal locomotion, basically moving on four legs.

Its four legs are powered by three electric motors and have a free range of motion controlled by an onboard computer connected to sensors and other devices around the robot.

DARPA funded it to encourage research into robots that could walk on legs, but as of now, the project is shelved.

Legged Squad Support System (LS3)

The Legged Squad Support System or the LS3 was another attempt by Boston Dynamics to aid troops in carrying heavy equipment.

First revealed in 2012, the robot received a wide range of inputs from Marine and Army personnel and finally performed in a field exercise simulating a warzone at the end of development.

The LS3 has some autonomy, with integrating technology developed as part of DARPA’s robotics autonomy programs.

The robot looks similar to BigDog with its legs, but it has the following additional modes that offer the unit the choice to make it follow close or follow but take its own path.

Maintenance issues and loudness were factors in the military shelving this project in late 2015, but it showed how helpful a robot could be with a military unit.

Spot

The Spot is a commercially available four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics that can move around, see its surroundings and map them, or even get you something to drink.

The Spot is a working robot dog intended to be used to inspect factories without a human needing to be present and carry small loads for inspection.

Its application is primarily in industries where information gathering is essential.

Spot can click images of wherever you ask it and make them available to you through your phone or tablet.

The robot can laser scan structures to create a digital twin of your facility and alert you if there are any issues with your plant.

Since this is a robot, you can use it to inspect spaces where people can’t go, for example, areas with high nuclear or chemical content.

Spot does its job well, but it isn’t really a house dog.

ANYmal

ANYmal is another industrial inspection-focused robot designed by ANYbotics.

Steps, gaps and tight spaces are no issue for the ANYmal with its jointed legs to move autonomously.

Once you guide it through your facility, the robot learns all routes and makes the shortest paths possible to any location that it wants to go to.

You can also take over if you wish with a built-in teleoperation feature.

It is also intelligent enough to plug into its charger when its batteries have gone low.

If you want more range from your ANYmal, you can add more docking stations to your system.

The inspection tools that the robot carries include thermal, visual and audio sensors that are packaged into a platform capable of pan, tilt and zoom.

All data that it receives through its cameras and sensors are analyzed by its built-in AI and reported to its user.

It is commercially available, but only for industry.

Vision 60

The Vision60, according to Ghost Robotics, is an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that is suitable for defense and enterprise applications.

It doesn’t need to be walked through an area to have autonomous movement, and it can map the area around it in real-time and navigate it as required.

Redundancy is a feature here since even if the sensors fail, the robot can still find its way around and keep itself upright.

Ghost Robotics intends to have the robot swim as well later down the line, but it can now walk, run, and climb almost any terrain.

This is, in fact, thanks to the well-designed reverse jointed arms that offer the robot a lot of freedom of movement.

These robots can’t be bought from your nearest electronics store and are only built to order.

This is because it skews more towards the utility side of things.

CyberDog

Chinese giant Xiaomi, as part of their diversifying into different types of tech, had come out with the CyberDog back in mid-2021.

It is intended to be an open-source design, which means that anyone can design and make changes to the hardware and software of the CyberDog.

Xiaomi reserved the first few units for select tech and robotics enthusiasts and around $1,540.

It has most of the features that you would expect from a toy robot dog, like responding to voice commands and such, but it seems like Xiaomi is focusing more on the maker aspect of it.

Since it is open-source, the number of community features that people could come up with is remarkable.

Considering that one of the most popular operating systems globally, Linus, is entirely open-source, the CyberDog could be the robotic version.

How the Robot Dog has Changed over the Years

The robot dog started as a novelty in the 90s with Sony’s Aibo, but in the 21st century, we’re seeing a shift to research and more application-oriented robot dogs.

The robot dog or toy market had been pretty saturated after Aibo shot the concept into popularity, so robotics companies have realized that the real growth lies in research, industrial or otherwise more helpful robot dogs.

Robots were always made to lessen the effort humans have to put in, so naturally, robot dogs also seem to go the same way.

The Future of Robot Dogs

The future for robot dogs mainly lies in being in a support role for humans than outright replacing them.

There is also the possibility of robot therapy dogs that are programmed to help a person through therapy.

But that requires the robot to understand human emotions, which modern AI is still a bit far away from.

We’ll see massive growth in robotics in general if AI and machine learning can keep up the growth it’s been seeing for the past few years.

Man’s Best Friend

Robot dogs aren’t just man’s best friend like normal dogs; they also help humans with a lot of work.

This help might not even be visible, as is the case with Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog, primarily for research.

It’s not all positives, though; security risks are always just around the corner waiting to strike, and as we link more parts of our lives to robots, it’s fine to feel insecure.

But if companies that make these robots and users like you are proactive enough in dealing with potential security issues and follow protocol, you don’t have much to worry about.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the first robot dog?

The first robot dog was Sony’s Aibo, which came out in the late 90s.

It pioneered the robot dog space and is still being sold today.

How much does the robot dog cost?

Robot dogs can cost from $100 for a basic one up to tens of thousands of dollars for robot dogs that do inspections in industries.

It depends on what you use them for, and ones that are mainly used for companionship or entertainment are usually cheaper.

When was the robot dog invented?

The robot dog was invented in 1999 by Sony when they released the Aibo robot dog.

Who invented Spot the robot?

Boston Dynamics invented Spot, which factory owners can use to inspect their industrial plants.