What’s in a dog? Why do humans really want to have them around? I think different people would give different answers to those basic questions, and the different answers might just tell us whether a newly unveiled robot dog could become a successful product.
The robot dog is built by a company called Boston Dynamics and it’s supposed to be coming soon. It’s called the SpotMini. SpotMini’s inventors obviously weren’t trying to build something that looks as much like a dog as modern technology, materials, and design will allow — the robot is bright yellow and black, has no fur, and has a concave, camera-like gizmo instead of a head. It’s a robot that clearly looks like a robot. And yet, aside from the use of “Spot” in its name, the SpotMini does have dog-like attributes. It’s got four legs, which are shaped a lot like dog legs, and it walks and prances in dog-like fashion. I’m guessing that it barks, too.
So why do you have a dog? For us, it’s companionship: even though Kasey is slowing down, she’s still got a funny, unique personality that we’ve grown to love, and of course Kish enjoys putting Kasey on her lap and stroking her soft fur and making Kasey do embarrassingly undog-like things like wave her paw in greeting when I come in the front door after work. Kasey’s a member of the family, and we get a real kick out of her. It’s hard to imagine a yellow and black plastic and metal box with four legs replacing her, even if the SpotMini were programmed to have a personality.
But if your primary purpose in having a dog is security, the SpotMini just might do the trick. If the robot can detect intruders and bark like crazy to wake up its owners, and then confront the intruders and freak them out when a black and yellow torpedo comes charging at them, barking all the while, you just might have a successful product. And if the SpotMini.2 version has robot jaws that can chomp down on the right people, it might be even more successful. I could see people buying a security dog that doesn’t need to be fed or walked or cleaned up after, or boarded when they go on vacation, or taken to the vet and prescribed pricey medication.
In the next few years, we’re going to be seeing more and more of the robot invasion of our daily lives, and it will be interesting to see how people, and social activities generally, adapt to the coming changes. The SpotMini might just give us a peek at our yellow-and-black robot future.