For people who cannot have pets or who want to learn about robotics, robotic pets are a great option. Dr. Rongzhong Li, Founder and CEO of OpenCat and Petoi IRC creates open source robotic animals. Most robots are insanely expensive, but your company uses software and electronic components to make them more affordable. In this way, it is accessible to anyone who wants to learn more about robotics.
“Our dream is to bring futuristic robotic pets from fiction to reality,” said Dr. Li.
It looks like you are on your way to achieving that dream! His first company, called OpenCat, created “a highly maneuverable and programmable robotic cat for STEM education and enhanced artificial intelligence services.”
The beginnings of an innovation
The first product launched was Petoi Nybble, a laser-cut robotic kitten that can run and learn from its owner.
Here’s a brief description of Nybble from the website: “Nybble is probably the lightest and fastest robotic cat in the world that actually walks. Its movement is powered by an Arduino-compatible microcontroller. Stores instinctive “muscle memory” to move. An optional AI chip, such as the Raspberry Pi, can be mounted on Nybble’s upper back to help Nybble with perception and decision. You can program in your favorite language and direct Nybble to walk by simply sending short commands, such as “walk” or “turn left.”
Now his next creation is Petoi Bittle, a palm-sized robotic dog who can learn tricks, walk, and explore the great outdoors. Robotic pets are agile and responsive, just like real pets.
Here’s what Li has to say about the latest robotic pet: “Petoi Bittle is a small but powerful robot that can do tricks like real animals. We tweaked every last detail to tailor agile maneuverability to a palm-sized robot pet.
Evolving with an open source gene, Bittle is an open platform for merging devices from various manufacturers into an organic system. With our custom Arduino board coordinating all the sophisticated and instinctive movements, you can couple multiple sensors to generate perception. You can also inject artificial intelligence capabilities by mounting a Raspberry Pi or other AI chips over wired / wireless connections. “
How robotic pets came to life thanks to Li’s imagination
“In 2016, after my graduation, I had some time during summer break and bought a Raspberry Pi for fun. At the time, I just wanted to make a robotic animal that could walk. After a year, the robot grew a lot and became too complex. So I decided that I had to dedicate all my time to that, ”he said.
For all the non-tech savvy, the Raspberry Pi is a series of single board computers the size of a credit card. They are affordable and can be connected to any computer or television. The Raspberry Pi was originally designed to help children learn programming skills. However, they serve a variety of functions, including the artificial intelligence capabilities of robotic pets.
Once Li had discovered AI, he needed to make pets accessible to the average person. Robots can cost thousands or even millions of dollars, but they are typically used for military or scientific purposes. To make them affordable, Li decided to make the mascots open source, which means that anyone can access the original source codes.
This way, anyone with coding skills who has a robotic pet can add their own codes. It allows them to add new body language or behaviors with just a couple of lines of code. The robots’ small size also makes them affordable, costing around $ 250 per kit.
Dr. Li said this:
“I invented an open source framework called OpenCat to make robotic animals lightweight and affordable. As a company, we design and produce robotic pets for STEM education, entertainment, and services. I was especially encouraged by the comments from our sponsors and fans. “
Even non-technical types can enjoy robotic pets. According to the website, the company tested the robots with people with less experience in coding and artificial intelligence. It took them about an hour to assemble the frame of the robots. Of course, the hardware is the easy part. Learning the software may require some prior knowledge, but the kits come with instructions to make it easy to use.
“Imagine, what you do at home can get so many emails, all over the world, and they are really paying for what we do. After receiving the robot, they also told me how much they love these little ones, ”Li said.
Future of robotic pets
So far, Li has raised nearly $ 800,000 in his Indiegogo campaign and has sold over 600 Bittle kits. He was also able to program the robotic dog to respond to his hiss! It’s amazing how robotic pets can still react to their surroundings and respond to commands.
Once the company catches up with orders, they will launch the Petoi challenge. This series of challenges will keep the community engaged and promote lifelong learning. Since the community can add information on bug fixes in the software, it makes the process more fun and interactive. Li’s company will even offer prizes to users who find solutions to problems!
It seems that the company has much more in store for the world. The website says: “Our mission is to bring affordable robotic pets from fiction to reality. We went from being a single manufacturer to a company that can collaborate and negotiate with manufacturers to obtain the best solutions to our needs. We have many more interesting ideas in mind, and Bittle is another small step towards our ideal form of home robots. “
Final thoughts on AI innovation helping kids learn more about AI and coding
These adorable robotic cats and dogs allow many children to learn first-hand about STEM and programming. However, they can also provide companionship to anyone who is unable to have pets due to cost, allergies, or other reasons. Of course, they can never replace a living animal with a heart and soul, but these robotic pets are certainly fun to play with.
What do you think of these innovative robotic pets? Share with us in the comments!