Man plays with dog from work with robotic surrogate

[From Geek-O-System via Telepresence Options;  a 4:55 minute video is available here]

Man Plays With Dog From Work With Robotic Surrogate

by Max Eddy | February 11th, 2012

Jordan Correa and his wife had a problem. Because they both worked full-time jobs, they weren’t able to spend time at home during the day with their new dog Darwin. Instead of painfully readjusting their lives, Correa did what any man with training in robotics and engineering would do: He built a telepresence robot surrogate that he could control from work to play with his dog. You know, the obvious solution.

Correa’s creation, which he calls DarwinBot, uses a Parallax EDDIE chasis and programmed with the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4. Which is convenient, because Correa is a developer in Micorsoft’s robotics division. The bot has several dog-friendly tools built in, such as a treat dispenser, a ball-launching ballista, a ball-retrieving robotic arm, and speakers so Darwin can hear his master’s voice.

Using the onboard slate PC, Skype, and a pan-and-tilt webcam, Correa can interact fairly naturally with Darwin. The bot also packs a Kinect camera system on top for obstacle avoidance and a downward facing webcam for ball retrieval. The whole thing is controlled over the Internet with an XBox 360 controller.

While it may seem hard to believe that this rolling mess of wires and cameras could command a dog’s attention, or at least not terrify it, Darwin seems to play well with DarwinBot. He comes when called, responds to some basic commands, and plays fetch with the robot. Whether or not Darwin recognizes Correa is another matter altogether, however. It seems more likely to me that the pup thinks of DarwinBot as the weird thing that throws balls and drops food on the ground when no one else is around.


2 responses to “Man plays with dog from work with robotic surrogate”

  1. Gino Canella

    Does this strengthen the assertion that dogs (or most animals) do not need emotions or feelings in their interactions? As long as they are fed and entertained, a sense of connection is not necessary.

  2. Darren Bau-Madsen

    If the sound quality is good enough, I would guess that the dog recognizes the owner’s voice. Is the voice a strong enough cue for the dog to recognize the bot as its master? If so, how do the dog’s interactions with the robot relate to its “real” interactions with its master?

    In response to Gino, even if the dog only recognizes the voice as familiar–and not as its master’s–I’d guess that would be sufficient to elicit an emotional response. Moreover, my experience has been that dogs have some pretty strong emotional responses to playing fetch or receiving food–it might not matter to Darwin that the bot can’t reciprocate. Guess we’d need to ask Darwin.

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