Meet AlphaDog: China's Answer to Boston Dynamics' Spot the Robot

Unlike Boston Dynamics' famous robodog, AlphaDog is aimed squarely at the consumer market.
Chris Young
Weilan's AlphaDogWEILAN AlphaDog/YouTube

Nanjing, China-based tech firm Weilan developed AlphaDog, a robodog that uses sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out a whole host of applications including delivering parcels and guiding the visually impaired.

Though AlphaDog's design is very similar to that of Boston Dynamics' Spot robot — and it even has the same name as an early Boston Dynamics prototype — the Chinese firm's four-legged machine is aimed squarely at the commercial market, rather than businesses.

"It's really very similar to a real dog," Ma Jie, chief technology officer at Weilan, explained in a press release, via TechXplore.

The developers of AlphaDog say the robot, which moves at a speed of almost 9 mph (15 km/h), is the fastest robot on the market.

In a similar fashion to those viral Boston Dynamics videos, demonstrations of AlphaDog see it keep its balance after being kicked by its human creators.

"It can predict the friction and height of the ground (to) adjust its height, adjust the stride frequency, and adapt to the environment," Ma Jie said.

AlphpaDog's creators are using 5G technology to make the robot operate autonomously. Ma, who studied reinforcement learning at the University of Oxford, says he has used the knowledge gained during his studies to inform how the AI dog mimics the behavior of real canines.

Early sales promising for Weilan's robopet 

AlphaDog, which is already for sale in China, sold more than 1,800 units in its first month of sales, despite a rather hefty price tag of 16,000 yuan ($2,400).

"Orders are mostly from computer developers, tech geeks, and also kids, who really seem to like it," said Ma.

Though AlphaDog doesn't currently come with the feature, Weilan developers hope that it will eventually be able to help to guide the visually impaired. They aren't the only group developing such a technology — researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, are working on a GPS and laser-enabled robodog for the same purpose.

Meet AlphaDog: China's Answer to Boston Dynamics' Spot the Robot
Future updates of AlphaDog could allow it to guide the visually impaired. Source: Weilan

"To help the disabled is an important developing direction for us," Ma explained. "When the robot dog has the function of vision, hearing, and dialogue too, it can easily interact with disabled people, and lead them to the supermarket or the bus."

Weilan also has a larger "enterprise" dog model for industrial inspection and maintenance of machinery. However, it is seemingly focused on setting itself apart from the competition by offering a commercially available robodog.

Future software updates for the mechanical mutt will include the dog "barking," and, eventually, a human voice function to allow conversations and commands between robopet and owner.

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