Sparko: the robotic Scottish Terrier

Back in the 20s, when electricity (lighting, appliances) was less common, the american company Westinghouse tried to create early robots. One of the goal was to stimulate demand and interest in their electrical products. They indeed showed at the 1939 World's Fair a prototype of two curious characters: a tall humanoid robot called Elektro and - above all - a robotic dog named Sparko:

Although much of the emphasis has been put on Elektro (7 foot tall, 300 pound, it could walk, count, see things with photoelectric cell eyes, talk using a record player and smoke cigarettes), it's Sparko that I found more intriguing. Far less complex, Sparko was more into pet stuff: situp, barking, and dog tricks. You can see some video footage here.

Created by Westinghouse engineer Joseph Barnett, these oldest US robots are very curious. As matter of fact, Sparko is reported missing: "The biggest challenge remaining to Weeks is finding one of the three robot dogs, all named Sparko, that were built as pets for Elektro. The last confirmed sighting of Sparko was in California in 1957. The dogs were light-followers and legend has it that one of the three dogs was hit by a car and destroyed when it wandered out of an open door at the Westingouse lab.".

Why do I blog this? Don't know if these two artifacts were a technological failure (it was rather meant to be a marketing demonstrator of electricity and not a real product but it's definitely part of my catalogue of insightful projects. Moreover, the man-dog "couple" as robots is also a very interesting metaphor which know lead to different product avenues: robotic pets from Sparko to Aibo (or Pleo) on one hand and robotic humanoids on the other hand.