The ulti-mutt pet? Chinese tech company develops robo-dogs

NANJING, CHINA (AFP) – It’s whip fast, obeys commands and doesn’t leave unpleasant surprises on the floor – meet the AlphaDog, a robotic response 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 environment – and can even be taken for walks.

“It’s really very similar to a real dog,” said Chief Technology Officer Ma Jie at Weilan, the company behind the product.

AlphaDog follows in the paw prints of ‘Spot’, a four-legged machine designed for industrial use by Boston Dynamics that became an Internet sensation after appearing in a series of viral YouTube videos.

Its Nanjing-based creators are instead targetting the consumer market and say their robot dog – which moves at a speed of almost 15 kilometres per hour and spins on the spot like an excited puppy – is the fastest on the market.

Chief Technology Officer Ma Jie for Weilan Intelligent Technology Corporation, walking an AlphaDog quadruped robot at the company workshop in Nanjing, China’s Jiangsu province. PHOTO: AFP

With four metal legs it is more stable than a real dog, Ma explained as one of his team swiftly kicks it to prove the point.

“It can predict the friction and height of the ground (to) adjust its height, adjust the stride frequency, and adapt to the environment,” he told AFP, as the robot slowly navigates going up a set of stairs.

Its creators are using 5G technology, super-fast Internet speeds with immediate reaction times, to make the robot operate autonomously.

Ma studied reinforcement learning – the study of how to reinforce actions through reward or punishment – at the University of Oxford and said he has used that knowledge to inform how the AI dog mimics canine habits.

And in the first month of sales, more than 1,800 AlphaDogs have trotted off the shelves, despite the hefty price tag of CNY16,000 (USD2,400).

“Orders are mostly from computer developers, tech geeks, and also kids, who really seem to like it,” said Ma.