Of Purrs and Grrrs

Last year Sony Corp. made headlines when it released Aibo, a robotic pet dog complete with artificial intelligence software that let it respond to human commands (see “Trendlines,” CIO Canada, November 1999). Now there’s a feline counterpart for Aibo to chase — a robotic cat known as Tama, developed by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in Osaka, Japan.

Not only is Tama cute and furry, but it needs no litter box. The life-sized robocat automatically says “Good morning,” jumps, purrs and even delivers the local news when plugged into a phone line. Speech recognition and sensors allow Tama to identify its owner. And that’s integral to the goal of its development, which is to relieve stress for senior citizens in need of a companion. (Funding for development was provided by Japan’s Association for Technical Aids.)

The robot develops a familiar personality using autonomous agent technology. This activates the robot automatically and initiates dialogue with its user. There is also a memory chip that stores recent information logs that can let nurses or doctors know when and how the robocat interacted with its user.

Weighing a little more than three pounds, the futuristic kitty runs on eight AA batteries, is scheduled for completion in 2001 and will cost approximately US$4,000.

Of course, once robotics entered the animal kingdom, it was only a matter of time before it began to venture beyond the household pet — in some cases, way beyond. To wit: The European Association for Research in Legged Robots (EARLR) is in the midst of recreating the dinosaur age.

EARLR’s Palaiomation Project will replicate a 13-foot Iguanodon artefieldensis with a “robosaur” featuring multiple sensors and control systems that allow it to roam museums, chew on plants, blink, simulate breathing and interact with visitors.

“This is an exciting project,” says designer Vassilios Papantoniou, who works for EARLR in Lamia, Greece. “It requires and brings together expertise from many different fields, such as paleontology, biomechanics and robotics.” The new attraction is currently half its ultimate size and has full power for about one hour. The full-scale dinobot is scheduled for completion in 2001. Visit www.earlr.gr.