One day you may look back at this robot guide dog and chuckle at its loudness, its clunkiness, and its slowness. Actually, you can do that today, because it’s all of the above.
But by 2020, Japanese manufacturer NSK hopes that a commercial version of today’s prototype will be way cuter, quieter, and more sure-footed. (Already, since the development of the first prototype in 2005, the robodog is way faster with stairs. So in truth, that was the slowest guide dog ever. In the amount of time it takes the latest incarnation to traverse the whole mini stairway, the old dog barely put one paw on the first step. The 2011 version is one big step for robodog …)
The robodog uses Microsoft Kinect technology to create 3-D images of obstacles ahead and avoid them. Its “paws” also contain bumper sensors that keep it from crashing into objects. The dog’s person controls it by putting pressure on a hand grip, and the dog “speaks up” to let the person know what’s going on. Right now the voice is that of a Japanese woman. But this big fella would be better off with the voice of Sly Stallone or Vin Diesel.
Why a robotic guide dog anyway? Besides the obvious â€” they don’t eat food or go to the bathroom â€” they’re designed to help an aging worldwide population. That might be handy in places where there are few parks, and for people for whom a real dog would be too difficult to maintain. But I dare say most people would choose a real dog â€” shedding and all â€” over this machine. Even with all the high-tech gadgetry, dogs have one thing machines don’t: heart.
But here’s a pretty amazing humanoid robot: Honda’s Asimo. I saw Asimo in a show at Disneyland earlier this year, and he was an adorable high-tech wonder. He’s really good at stairs, too. Too bad the robo guide dog can’t go for a few walks with Asimo …