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Little Dog, Big Dog
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I was talking to a co-worker today about robots, and even though she'd bought a Roomba, she hadn't heard of the Aibo. The latest-generation robotic doggy is now available for $1,599 US (financing available), and includes:

  • AIBO®, software, energy station, battery, pink ball, and AIBOne
  • Built-in wireless LAN connectivity
  • Understands 100+ words/phrases
  • Recognizes owner’s face and voice
  • Tactile touch sensors
  • Self-charges on its charging station
  • Provides remote monitoring (jpeg format)
  • Raise from a puppy or an adult
  • Autonomously plays with its bone and ball
  • Illume-Face provides a multitude of facial expressions

Researchers are now using these little guys for autonomous multi-agent interactions (playing soccer).

And as a sort of big brother to the Aibo, the U.S. Army has forked out $2.25 million to two competing firms to develop a robotic pack dog for ground troops:

Today's soldiers carry as much as 100 pounds of equipment. That's exhausting, even for the toughest grunt. In the future, the Army wants to dump up to half that gear onto the back of a drone. But military scientists are worried that robots with wheels won't be able to follow their human masters across mountain passes, up stairs and through forest trails.

To make their way across that kind of terrain, the drones will need legs -- maybe even four of them. So the Army's Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, has just doled out $2.25 million to two robotics firms to prototype a big, mechanical dog capable of carrying ammunition, food and supplies into battle.

I think it'll be years yet until anything remotely like this is actually used...but it's interesting stuff. Let's just hope it's a good long while before the DoD decides to affix rocket launchers to autonomous robots.

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