TNB Night Owl – Robot Sheepdog

Spot, the autonomous sheepdog. Image captured by the News Blender.

Okay, this is just… wrong.

There are actually people in this world who think that robotic dogs are a great idea. As a life-long dog lover and current owner of fourteen rescue dogs, I find this more than a little disconcerting. It would be less creepy if the robot was humanoid instead of, uh, doggoid? Caninoid? Poochoid? /end rant.

The happiest dogs in the world have a job to do. Real sheepdogs love to work and are absolutely amazing to watch in action. Responding to voice commands they can move the herd in any direction, or cut the herd in two for sorting. They can also be taught whistle commands, as whistles can be heard at greater distance than shouting. If you’ve never seen them before, here’s a video of the Irish National Sheepdog Trials 2016. No need to watch the whole thing to get an idea of what they can do, unless of course you want to (15:30):

There are, naturally, economic considerations driving robotic sheepdog technology. The sheep rancher never has veterinary bills or dog food costs. The robotic dog never needs sleep, unless you count the required time to recharge or replace its battery. (Notice the use of ‘its’ battery, not ‘his’ or ‘her’ battery). Worn out parts can be replaced. The robot is never distracted by squirrels, rabbits, or predators.

Part of the sales pitch, or justification for electrification/mechanization of Fido is, ostensibly, a shortage of skilled labor. As there is no shortage of dogs that I’m aware of, they must mean human labor. This point seems dubious however, as robotic dogs will still need to be told what to do by a human that understands the sheep business and has also mastered robot commands. Labor shortage or not, right now, there are far more sheep herders on Earth who understand dogs and how to command them to herd sheep than there are sheep herders who understand robot commands.

The two companies that have teamed up to bring us the automated sheepdog are Boston Dynamics and Rocos. Boston Dynamics built SPOT, “The mobile robot designed for sensing, inspection, and remote operation”. Rocos, which is apparently somehow an abbreviation for Robot Operations Platform, specializes in managing fleets of robots remotely from anywhere in the world. According to their website, “Rocos provides a cloud platform to build and manage your robot operations”. Together, they thought that teaching SPOT to herd sheep and managing it remotely was a good idea. Here’s their promo video (1:33):

This next picture, captured from the video, shows that the robot dog (circled in red) is getting a little help from two real sheepdogs (circled in yellow).

To wipe away that creepy robotic apparition and cleanse your video pallette, here’s a compilation of puppies howling like the big dogs they wanna be. It’s a little long, but personally I could watch it for hours (10:48):

Question of the night: What is your favorite dog breed, or, Post a picture of your current or past doggo(s).

About the opinions in this article…

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About Richard Doud 106 Articles
No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.