“Let’s wake up Albert,” says the Xiaomi employee. And so it happens. The plastic and metal body, with a gleaming gray back, lying sprawled on the ground suddenly animates. It comes to life, or rather, movement. His paws seem too thin until he starts to walk and smashes the ground with them with martial stomps. On his head he has two rounds, a binocular lens that leaves space in the middle for a camera with Artificial Intelligence (the brain is between the eyes).
The references we have of robotic dogs are not particularly nice. One of the best known is the Boston Dynamics, the company that became the property of Google, who later resold it to the Japanese group Softbank and later went into the hands of Hyundai. The first design of these quadrupedal machines was nothing short of terrifying. A later one, more stylish and functional, was less scary. But his movements were still the opposite of giving people confidence.
Xiaomi’s Cyberdog, which can be seen these days at MWC 2022 in Barcelona, shows that it is a more evolved version. He is short —he stands about two feet off the ground when he supports all four legs— and friendly gestures have been programmed for him. It is controlled remotely with a mobile application. Although in the future the company hopes that it can be governed by voice commands, according to EL PAÍS Fabio Arena, director of product marketing at Xiaomi. That is to say, it would be something similar to giving orders to your dog (the one of now, the one of flesh and blood) only that even the artificial intelligence would understand your wishes better.
This robotic dog can walk and run with a certain speed, turn around on itself, even do a backflip, according to its demonstrators (although one is tempted to say handlers there). Sometimes it has a threatening point: it is difficult to save the uncanny valley, a hypothesis that dictates that the more similar the robots are to animal forms, especially human, the more uneasiness they generate in us. When Cyberdog rears up on his motorized hindquarters you don’t know if it’s some sort of act of obedience, like he’s begging for food, or if it’s going to launch like a robotic apocalypse beast. Fortunately, in the demonstration that Xiaomi has made for the press, he has always seemed more the first.
However, far from terrifying, one of the future applications of this can-machine falls within the care of the elderly or people with disabilities. It can accompany someone, because thanks to its cast of cameras and artificial intelligence it identifies who it has to follow. It can also help to carry up to three kilos of weight on its back, whether it is the purchase of the day or any other need.
It won’t all be charity. Other possible use cases will be security, such as making the rounds that a security guard would make in an industrial estate. Of course, hearing this creature approach at night with its electronic clicks and tense stomping can be quite a deterrent.
It works with cameras and microphones, its senses to capture the environment, which it processes using artificial intelligence with Nvidia hardware. As for the sensors, many of them have the Intel brand, confirms Fabio Arena.
This machine is capable of awakening an “oooh” tinged with tenderness among its audience when, in its perfect imitation of the well-trained pet, it raises a paw to give it to someone. This does not mean that before the greeting is executed, the demo room is silent for a moment. A minimum second of expectation in suffocation to see the result. To find out if that creature was capable of a gesture of love towards humans when the opportunity arose. If not of love, at least of good will. A guarantee of peace sealed with that greeting, which reaffirms to people that the robotic quadruped is a friendly machine.
At the moment it is sold in China to developers, so that they can invent use cases. It’s all open. And the machine is cheaper than you might think: the equivalent of 1,500 euros. For the next generation of its robotic dog, Xiaomi is testing sensors to incorporate artificial smell, according to the director of product marketing at Xiaomi. Thus, the machine would be able to detect the smell of onion or garlic.
This electronic specimen has little to do with the references we have from fiction, which do not help us feel affection for robotic canids. One of his most recent manifestations on the screen came from the hand of BlackMirrorin the episode ‘Metalhead’ season four. With nightmarish performances like these, it’s not easy to fall in love with these critters. Sorry, machines, sometimes you forget.