When Jordan Correa and his wife both started working full time, they found themselves away from their home much more often, leaving their dog, Darwin, alone all day. Most people would have just had to leave the problem as is, or maybe get a part time pet sitter. But Correa, being a test developer for the Microsoft Robotics Team, came up with a solution right in line with his talents and built a dog-sitting robot, so he could play and speak with his pet over the internet while he's at work.
Using the Parallax EDDIE hardware platform and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4, Correa constructed a robot that can interact with his dog much like he would himself, which he named the "DarwinBot." A Slate PC on the front lets the owner speak to his dog over Skype, while a dispenser on the side can distribute treats on his command. The DarwinBot can also play fetch, thanks to a ball launcher on top and a robotic arm that can retrieve the ball after the dog drops it in front of it.
Aside from attachments and the main components that provide motion, the bot uses a pan-and-tilt camera to look around with, a webcam connected to LEDs to locate and pick up a ball, and an Xbox Kinect sensor to avoid obstacles while moving around. Everything is controlled with an Xbox 360 controller, which the owner uses remotely to drive the robot around and activate its various features.
Although DarwinBot might not be available in a store near you anytime soon, dog and cat owners who wish to play with their pet via the internet might be interested in the iPet Companion system. It allows users to remotely control two pet toys, while watching their animal's reactions in real time using a webcam.
Check out the video below to watch Correa demonstrate the DarwinBot in action with his own dog, Darwin.