DarwinBot: Robot Puppysitter for Guilty Pet Owners

If you are a pet owner, then chances are you have struggled with the guilt of having to leave your pet home alone for periods of time. It looks like Microsoft is looking to expand its products to the pooch department.

Jordan Correa, a Microsoft Robotics Group developer, felt guilty for leaving his dog, Darwin, home alone while he and his wife were at work. Deciding that dog really is man’s best friend, Correa went to work on finding a way to interact with his dog while at work. And while some of us might have opted to hire a dog walker, Correa built a robot puppysitter to keep his pet company.

Correa is not the first person to create a robot to interact with his canine companion. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common for people to slap together some sort of rig that will throw a ball or reward their pet for good behavior. However, Correa has taken his love for Darwin to a whole new level. Instead of having an autonomous creation that responds to Darwin’s actions, he has created a machine that allows him to Skype with his dog while piloting the robot with an Xbox 360 controller.

Correa’s creation, the DarwinBot, is decked out with the best Microsoft has to offer. Correa has attached webcams to the robot so he can monitor his dogs actions, locate Darwin’s ball and see where he is going, a robotic arm with a claw at the end that can grip and throw a ball, and a treat dispenser on the side that dispenses kibble whenever Darwin has earned a treat.

However, the two over-the-top items on this creation would have to be the Kinect sensor and the screen mounted on the front. While I understand the Kinect sensor is supposed to keep the robot from destroying valuables, with the bot being completely user controlled, it seems a little overboard. If the robot was motion activated or programmed for specific functions, like a rumba, then I could understand needing a sensor, but with multiple webcams and a dog that can retrieve balls, it seems a little silly. Also, the giant screen on the front is a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s nice that Correa can monitor his dog’s actions through Skype, but do you really think the dog cares if his owner’s face is plastered on the thing throwing a ball? It’d be cheaper and easier to set up speakers that permitted him to call for his dog, and left the creepy disembodied head off the robot all together.

No word on whether or not Correa has created a way to spend the day with his wife while he is away, but chances are that if is this weird about his dog, his future children will not be able to make a move without their father watching.