2 min read

Robot Service Dogs

Worldwide we have 470 million pet dogs because thousands of years ago we saw value in domesticating wolves for hunting and herding. Today, just a fraction of 1% of our dogs provide us with a service (other than companionship), even though there’s a huge demand for service animals.

This is all going to change with the Robot Dogs coming from Boston Dynamics and Xiaomi:

Robot Service Dogs

Unlike Sony’s Aibo robot dog, neither Boston Dynamic’s Spot nor Xiaomi’s CyberDog looks cute and cuddly. But they’re not designed to replace a pomeranian. These are service robots. And I believe they will soon be everywhere, providing us with all sorts of assistance.

Both Spot and CyberDog are designed for industrial workplaces. They use computer vision, thermal cameras, LiDAR technology, and autonomous navigation to assist in the following ways:

  1. Risk detection, worksite safety, and inspection
  2. Lending a helping hand
  3. Automating data capture in dangerous environments

But I also see a future for these robot service dogs in the consumer setting, filling some of the roles that service dogs provide:

  • Guide dogs, hearing dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure response dogs, medical alert dogs, allergy detection dogs, and PTSD dogs.

There’s a huge shortage of service dogs because of the time and resources it takes to train them. On average it takes 18 months and $10k-$20k to train a service dog. 50-70% of canine candidates fail in training.

This friction in training has led to a lack of availability; only 2% of the blind and visually impaired use a guide dog.

CyberDog and Spot are computer vision algorithms at their core. They are designed to collect data, recognize their surroundings, and navigate them. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they will soon fill this void in service dogs, whether as guide dogs or medical alert dogs. There’s even Tombot – the robot dog designed for therapy.

Robot Guard Dogs

I’ve never had the desire to own a dog, but I’ve wanted a robot dog since I first saw it. Especially if they provide security and threat detection at home. Outside of the commercial and consumer service roles, I see this as their biggest opportunity.

Ring and Nest have brought millions of homes into the digital age of security. Robot dogs will integrate and upgrade these systems.

The robot guard dog will watch for possible threats or intruders, automatically locking doors and alerting authorities. And it will do so without inciting violence as guard dogs are sometimes known to do.

Because Spot and CyberDog have computer vision algorithms, they’ll come to learn that random passersby and people like the mailman are not threats. Owners will be able to scan their faces and other friends’ faces into their guard dog's system as friendlies (in the same way that real dogs come to learn the scents of friendlies).

Now that Hyundai owns Boston Dynamics, I’m doubtful they’ll prioritize Spot for home security over commercial applications. Still, I believe robot dogs have a lot to give this world on the consumer side of things.