Robotic Animals in Action

Lauren Vogelbaum

Nothing artificial rivals the pure adorability of a puppy like this, but you might be surprised how far robotic animals have come. | Sergey Lavrentev/iStock/Thinkstock

Although none of us would trade in our beloved dogs for a cold, unfeeling robot, we can certainly envision a future in which some people would want to purchase a robotic pet. Especially as AI, mechanics and materials science improve, bringing us fuzzier, more sympathetic facsimiles.

Several companies have the same vision - and some aren't waiting for the incredible future. In our video Robot Pets of the Future, we discuss a few products and prototypes. Which we expand upon in the companion podcast episode, Robo Pets. But because the cuteness (and uncanniness) of these machines is done the most justice via video, we present some of our favorites here:

Boston Dynamics research robots:

WildCat can run at about 16 mph (25 kph) using different gaits suitable for different types of terrain and look terrifyingly adorable while doing so:

Cheetah is faster - it's been clocked at 28.3 mph (45.5 kph) on a treadmill with offboard power:

BigDog is the slowest of the bunch but can handle all kinds of terrain: snowy, icy, muddy, obstacley. It also moves the most like a living quadruped to my eyes (and I'm still upset about it being kicked):


A demonstration of Aibo, Sony's discontinued robot dog. I find this robocritter difficult to sympathize with -- I know it's purposefully stylized, but its movements and programmed sounds don't register as cute to me.

Pleo rb is a little less mobile and more focused on gamelike 'training' exercises. (When HowStuffWorks put together its article on Pleo, they created a video, too: watch how the original Pleo works.)

The most affordable of the bunch is Zoomer. Despite its legs reminding me more than a little of Wheelers, I find its wriggly movements endearing:

Therapy robots:

Paro, the therapy 'bot made to look like a harp seal pup. Further watching: Paro comforting tsunami refugees in Japan, aka the video that I should never watch in public because it makes me well up every time.

We didn't discuss it specifically in the podcast or video, but I wanted to include this bit of kitsch: Keepon, a toy being used in research and therapy for children with autism, dancing for the full length of "I Turn My Camera On." Because Internet.