The first Sony AIBO robotic pet was released 20 years ago. Despite its high price — as much as 250,000 yen ($2,295 USD) — it sold fairly well. It wasn’t the first consumer robot designed to look like a friendly pet, but it is probably the most well-known. Sony has announced a new Aibo (dropping the all-caps style, apparently), but it will cost about $1,800 if it actually makes it to market. Elephant Robotics is dramatically undercutting that price with their MarsCat robotic kitty.
MarsCat is launching through a Kickstarter campaign, which has already raised nearly three times its funding goal. Like the Sony Aibo, this will be a robotic pet. This one just looks like a cat instead of a dog. Other than that, consumers will be hard-pressed to find a big difference in what the two robots are supposed to do. MarsCat is a robot for your home that is meant to be cute and to act as much like a real cat as possible. It can walk around, play with toys, purr, respond to petting, and more. It’s also open source and programmable, so you can develop your own functions.
There are a total of 16 servo motors inside of MarsCat’s rigid body. Those are controlled by a Raspberry Pi through an ATmega2560 and servo driver boards. A number of sensors, including a camera, a ToF (Time of Flight) laser distance sensor, and a microphone, help MarsCat navigate and respond to your commands. Elephant Robotics claims that artificial intelligence is also running locally on the Raspberry Pi, which will let your MarsCat develop its own unique personality.
MarsCat will have an MSRP of $1,299, but super early birds can back the Kickstarter campaign to snag one for just $650. That makes it far more affordable than the Sony Aibo, but it does have the risks associated with a company new to the consumer market that is launching a product through Kickstarter. MarsCat is also much more expensive than the real cats you can get from your local animal shelter that possess actual intelligence. But MarsCat may still be appealing if you don’t want the responsibility of taking care of a real animal. If so, the Kickstarter campaign will be running until February 8th and rewards are expected to be delivered in May.