Agence France-PresseApril 8, 2021 10:08:56 AM IST
He’s fast as a whip, obeys orders, and leaves no nasty surprises on the ground – meet the AlphaDog, a robotic answer to two of China’s burgeoning loves: pets and technology. The high-tech hound uses sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ its surroundings, and can even go for a walk. “It’s really very similar to a real dog,” says Ma Jie, CTO of Weilan, the company behind the product.
Nanjing’s creators say their robot dog Moving at a speed of nearly 15 kilometers (nine miles) per hour and spinning on the spot like an excited puppy, it is the fastest on the market.
With four metal legs, he’s more stable than a real dog, Ma explains as one of his team quickly kicks him to prove it.
“It can predict the friction and the height of the ground (to) adjust its height, adjust the stride frequency and adapt to the environment,” he tells AFP, while the robot navigates slowly up some stairs.
Its creators are using 5G technology, blazing fast internet speeds with immediate reaction times, to make the robot work autonomously.
Ma studied reinforcement learning, the study of how to reinforce actions through rewards or punishments, at the University of Oxford and says he has used that knowledge to inform how the AI dog mimics canine habits.
Dog ownership was banned under the leadership of Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong, but has since seen a spectacular boom.
And in the first month of sales, more than 1,800 AlphaDogs have rolled off the shelves, despite the hefty price tag of 16,000 yuan ($ 2,400).
“The orders come mainly from computer developers, tech geeks and also kids, who really seem to like it,” Ma said.
As China seeks to improve the skills of its workforce, Beijing has been investing heavily in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Robots are already used to deliver packages, serve at restaurants, offer information at stations, and even take throat samples for Covid-19 testing.
Weilan’s workshop is made up of young tech enthusiasts, filled with pencil design sketches and a central obstacle course of stairs and slopes for the machines to hit in testing.
The developers hope that future uses of their four-legged friend could benefit the visually impaired.
“Helping the disabled is an important developmental direction for us,” says Ma. “When the robot dog has the function of seeing, hearing and talking too, it can easily interact with disabled people and take them to the supermarket or to the bus.”
Future software updates will include the “barking” of the dog, and beyond that, they will even add human voices to allow for conversations between the pet and the owner.
There is also a larger “business” dog model, designed for industrial machinery or pipeline inspections.
The next generation of the AlphaDog in pet form could also introduce “personalities” into the dog’s toolkit to make them even more canine, as well as extend somewhat short battery life.