Hongik University design student Jihee Kim, guided by tutor Tate Eunyoung Kim, tackled the challenge of the loneliness faced by astronauts during long space missions. Their innovative solution involves creating an AI robotic pet named Laika, which draws inspiration from the enduring bond between humans and dogs. Combining the adorable and charming design of Sony’s Aibo with the advanced mechanics of Boston Dynamic’s Spot, Laika aims to provide astronauts with both comfort and companionship throughout their years-long voyages.
Kim’s creation is not only friendly and appealing, but it also stands out as a product of the Hollywood entertainment complex rather than the military-industrial one. While its movements and reactions are modeled after real dogs, its industrial design proudly embraces its robotic nature, ensuring that it doesn’t fall into the uncanny valley.
Beyond its emotional appeal, this four-legged companion serves as a mobile monitoring station, keeping a close eye on vital health statistics and onboard systems. Equipped with depth cameras, thermal imaging cameras, and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping cameras (SLAM), Laika gracefully navigates its surroundings on its titanium limbs. Additionally, strategically placed electrocardiography sensors on its back and neck allow the robot to seamlessly monitor vital signs.
Although naming the pet after the Soviet space dog from 1957, who tragically lost its life, might give even the most basic AI pause for thought, the intention behind it is serious. An astronaut embarking on a mission that could span years requires unwavering and trustworthy companionship.
In recent years, robotics has made significant advancements. It only makes sense for a robot to imitate a dog, and the introduction of Spot in 2016 marked the convergence of military-funded technology with industrial needs. This eerie yet agile quadruped has become a reliable tool for remote monitoring and patrolling large areas.
Laika aims to combine loyal service with practical assistance, while also exuding a touch of unwavering strength. She may very well represent the future of robotics.