Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot canine, and move over Sony’s Aibo! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend. Their hyper-realistic Golden Labrador retriever promises to carry out many of the cuter functions of a real dog, from wagging its tail when stroked to responding realistically when its name is called. It’s not just a novelty bit of fun, either: Its creator hopes that Tombot could become an invaluable robotic emotional support animal for people with a range of mental health conditions.
“We are focused on filling the emotional void for those cannot safely or practically care for a live animal,” Tom Stevens, founder and CEO of Tombot, told Digital Trends.
Stevens said that the path to developing Tombot began after his mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. “Of the many difficult days we had soon after her diagnosis, by far the worst was when I had to remove her dog,” he said. Looking around for a substitute, Stevens couldn’t find anything to fit the bill. This ultimately led to him studying the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
Tombot isn’t the only therapeutic robot on the market. The most famous responsive animal-inspired robot in this vein is Paro the seal. However, as Stevens pointed out, Paro comes with a price tag of $6,400, which places it out of the reach of many potential users. Costing a mere fraction of that, Tombot could be far more readily available to those who need it.
“By far the most challenging aspect of the robot’s development was how to attain the level of realism that seniors and other mental health groups wanted,” Stevens said. “While Tombot’s technical team are experts at software and robotics engineering, we didn’t know how to make a robot that looked and moved realistically. We turned to the creative geniuses at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who in addition to their world-renowned work with the Muppets and Sesame Street, have also produced hyper-realistic animatronic animals for movies and television.”
As ever, we advise that readers are aware of the risks inherent in crowdfunding campaigns. But if you’re aware of these and nonetheless want to get involved, you can head over to the project’s Kickstarter page. Prices to get your hands on a Tombot puppy start at $299, with shipping set to take place in August 2020.