Robot Dogs

Adorable wind-up robot dog
Although they may lack the warmth and character of the real thing, robot pets have a few charms of their own and usually require less feeding, watering, walking and vet visits. Plus, robot pets are for Christmas. If you get sick of them, you can let them rot at the back of a cupboard without too much guilt.

There are various "breeds" of robot dog available, from the the old mechanical, wind-up kind to sophisticated, high-tech versions that can walk, jump, bark and roll over on command.

Sony's interactive robot dog, Aibo
Take Sony's Aibo for example, the toy robot dog who offered its owners  a pretty good illusion of spontaneity and personality. Aibo (now discontinued) was the first commercially available product to use  Evolution Robotics' Visual Pattern Recognition technology, which is basically the ability of a robot to "see".

Currently on the market is  WowWee Wrex, the "Frankenstein pooch" and mongrel of the robot dog pack,  made from discarded mechanical and electrical parts. Wrex has three moods - happy, angry and half insane and three desires - hunger, a desire for exercise and call of nature. Apparently, by accessing his back panel, he can also be programmed to act like a cat. No wonder he has moments of insanity.
Wrex, made byWowWee robotics

Megabyte and Tekno
Another couple of relatively inexpensive pups  on the block are the digitally named named Megabyte and Tekno , perfect companions for the tech-head. They can walk talk bark and 'perform amazing tricks'...apparently.
Megabyte...cuter than a kitten in a flowerpot.
Tekno, with his own biscuit.
As Good as the real thing..?
The benefits of pet ownership, particularly for the elderly,  are well documented but I have my doubts a robotic dog could really be a substitute for the living, breathing kind. However, a few years ago, researchers at  Purdue University's Center for the Human-Animal Bond tried to discern just; whether or not a robotic substitute (they used Aibo) could provide the same benefits for  elderly people, who may not be up to the demands and  responsibilities of  real pet dog ownership, that a real dog could.

A study was also conducted on a group of 72 children, who were given both a real Australian collie and Aibo to play with. Not surprisingly, the children were more engaged with the real dog, yet the study revealed that a significant number of children interacted with the robot dog as they would a real one.  Two questions were raised by the research:
First, is it possible that a new technological genre is emerging in HCI that challenges traditional ontological categories (e.g., between animate and inanimate)? Second, are pervasive interactions with a wide array of "robotic others" -- increasingly sophisticated personified computational artifacts that mimic biological forms and pull psychologically in mental, social, and moral ways -- a good thing for human beings.
From Robots as dogs?

It's all a bit reminiscent of that eerie old 70s film Zero Population Growth, where humans in a futuristic world are unable to legally procreate because of massive overpopulation and are given robotic "doll children" to satisfy their nurturing needs. In the film at didn't work.