Okay, I rarely spend time looking at "concept machines" but this one just made me chuckle enough that I had to share it. In our hectic lives there is one group that constantly suffers from lack of attention: our pets. So what's the solution - spending more time at home, or giving your pet a backyard, maybe even finding someone to help care for your pet? No, of course, not. That's not technologically advanced enough. What your pet needs is a robotic sitter, one that you can control from anywhere in the world via WiFi. MintSelect, a technology concept community, has dreamed up their Robot Pet Sitter, a device that will let you speak to, watch, and even play fetch with your animal. Teach your pet to obey its robotic overlord just as it would obey you.
As far as I can tell, the Robot Pet Sitter would function almost exactly as a Rovio. Like that robot, the Pet Sitter would connect to your home WiFi network and allow you to access the device through a web browser. While I can't speak to whether or not animals will enjoy interacting with robots, I do know that telepresence is a developing trend in technology. Remotely accessing your home, for security or pet soothing, is just the beginning. Once we are able to transmit sensation from a machine to a human (a capability known as haptics) people will feel what is happening to the robot they are operating. In essence, you will be able to interact with distant objects just as if you were there with them. That level of connectivity may make travel obsolete.
Unlike Rovio, the Robot Pet Sitter concept includes two eyestalks with cameras and microphones to provide stereo vision and hearing. While that functionality would be wasted if you were accessing the robot via a traditional desktop computer, a head mounted display could give you a 3D view of the robot's surroundings, immersing you further into playtime with Rover. A speaker in the center of the bot lets you talk to your lonely pet while recessed wheels let you chase it as it runs away from the scary looking machine. Have a more aggressive housemate? The eyestalks automatically cover the cameras with plastic lids in the case of chewing or collisions.
Of course, the really innovative addition to the robot is a remote controlled ball. Launched from the bot, it contains a center of gravity style movement system that would allow you to give your pet something to chase or fetch. The robot, or the ball, can be accessed via point and click commands from a hand held writing device, the MintPad (see below).
You'll notice the gratuitous use of 'would' and 'could'. This robot, despite it's very pretty graphics, is simply a concept. It's never been built and may never be built. MintPass is a company that produces streamline, perhaps even gorgeous, communication devices - think Apple but Korean. Their MintPad is a hand held note taking web browsing video and audio player, and their Sapphire software allows you to seamlessly transfer media files from internet to storage. As part of their dreamy tech savvy, MintPass has created MintSelect, a webpage where they can post concepts of possible products and see how they work. The Robot Pet Sitter is just one of more than a hundred "what ifs" that litter MintSelect.
Maybe I find the concept of the Robot Pet Sitter so charming because of those MintSelect neighbors. Alongside a USB powered UV toothbrush sanitizer, or a life-like grenade with a speaker that plays funny sounds, the Pet Sitter seems pretty realistic.
If I'm being a little harsh on MintSelect it's because I know that the technology they are referencing in the Pet Sitter is no laughing matter. Telepresence is already having a profound effect on business travel, as it becomes cheaper and better it is likely to affect how individuals stay in touch with loved ones or even take vacation. Who knows, maybe a telepresence robot really could comfort a pet while you were at work or traveling. No matter which applications become popular, the ability to remotely access a location via the internet is already here, and will improve in the years ahead. That's one concept that MintSelect has definitely gotten right.
[photo credits: MintPass]