“MiRo is a type of companion robot that we have developed with a familiar form of a non-threatening, small friendly hybrid mammal, rather than a mechanical-looking device,” Sebastian Conran, co-founder of developer Consequential Robotics, told Digital Trends. “With the limitations of current processing a humanoid would inevitably be disappointing. However, we have low expectations of functional behavior from our pets so we can exceed expectations. It was important to demonstrate that robotic devices can be emotionally engaging.”
Emotionally engaging, cute, dog-inspired looks are far from MiRo’s only tricks, though. It also boasts impressive optical navigating skills, a range of smart sensors for detecting its surroundings, face recognition technology, and more. All that’s lacking is a robot tongue for licking your face when you fall asleep!
“The project was a result of my collaboration with University of Sheffield’s robotic department where I am designer-in-residence to the engineering faculty with a mandate to bridge the chasm between academic research and consumer experience,” Conran explained.
So far, 20 alpha prototypes and 50 beta prototypes have been assembled — with the next steps including a finished software demo at the end of this year, and consumer sales commencing in 2018.
What’s most interesting about MiRo, however, is that it’s not envisioned as a toy, but rather as a tool which could one day play a useful role in keeping elderly people company, a bit like the famous Paro seal robot.
“With the right programming, MiRo should be capable of emotionally engaging with older users,” Conran said. “The ethos is that companion robots should provide companionship and amusement whilst people are alone, alleviating isolation and encouraging people to look after themselves. It is designed to supplement human care and not in anyway displace it.”
With a rapidly aging population to cater for, we’ll have to wait to see whether tools like MiRo can break through into the mainstream. What we do know for sure is that a hairless dog would certainly save on vacuuming!