Sure, making robots for our animal companions seems like a good idea right now — but just wait until this bites us in the ass. The latest experiment in animal/machine integration comes from an electrical and computer engineering student from the University of Florida who has designed and built a mobile robot that's controlled by his pet parrot, Pepper. The parrot has quickly taken to the machine, which it's able to control by manipulating a joystick with its beak.
Called the BirdBuggy, the avian-friendly machine was constructed by Andrew Grey. The four-wheeled rover was part of a project to design robots that don't require continuous human guidance or remote controls to perform various tasks. The parrot, whose wings are clipped, can move the bot in any one of four different directions. The BirdBuggy also features front bump sensors that prevent Pepper from steering it into objects.
Interestingly, Grey was inspired to build the machine as a way to suppress Pepper's shrieking — a problem that seems to have now gone away. From the Alligator:
He first tried a robotic squirt gun that would squirt the African grey parrot every time he screamed. But when Pepper started using it as a birdbath, Gray decided to try a rattling device. Pepper eventually ignored the rattle.
The Bird Buggy is the latest in Gray's attempts to silence the screeches. Pepper is more calm when around Gray, so he wanted to enable the bird to follow him around the house.
The buggy is a square-shaped, four-wheeled metal vehicle lined with newspapers for Pepper's occasional droppings. In the front stands the joystick, which Pepper can control with his beak, and behind it is the bird's perch. Sensors in the front prevent the robot from bumping into anything, such as the occasional wall or chair leg.
When not navigated by the parrot, the Bird Buggy will go into autonomous mode and dock itself, a feature Pepper particularly dislikes.
"If you leave him on, he gets really angry because he tries to move the buggy, and it doesn't respond to him," Gray said, "so we just take him off. Otherwise, he has a fit."
Just wait until Pepper hacks into it. Then we'll see who starts shrieking.