Adorable robotic critter aims to be your newest companion

The newest dream pet isn't a cat, a dog or a sheep; instead, its creators are calling it a "hybrid animal".

UK-based company Consequential Robotics says MiRo is a new type of companion that, thanks to artificial intelligence, is smarter than the average pet.

"With artificial intelligence, it opens doors to a whole range of new things," mechatronics engineer Ludwig Resch says.

"If it was just an animal, you would be pretty much stuck at that animal level, that ability to interact emotionally, but since we have the artificial level and that high-level thinking brain, we can do things that animals couldn't.

"We can recognise people based on voice; we can recognise them based on visual signs and this means we can open MiRo's applications to a whole range."

The robotic critter is being seen as an add-on, rather than a replacement, for carers, particularly for elderly or disabled people.

Consequential Robotics says since in the future social robots will likely share our personal space and engage emotionally with us, they may as well look cute.

"It has a companionship effect, so when it's on and around you it really gives you that warm, buzzy feeling that you have someone that understands you. It can really help for loneliness, but also autism, people with learning disabilities," studio manager Maria Favre says.

A variety of sensors give it the best qualities from different pets. It can feel you pat it and will wag its tail like a dog; it can use echolocation like a bat, and can stop when it comes to a steep drop, thanks to a cliff sensor.

Its eyes can see, recognise and track individual people, opening possibilities for it to help recognise visitors at the front door.

Age UK's Mervyn Kohler says they could replace carers in some circumstances.

"The advantage about robots is that they don't get tired, they don't get snappy, they don't want time to themselves; they're prepared to be there for you, when you want them, and that seems to me an interesting approach," he says.

But overall, MiRo shouldn't be seen as a replacement or a sign of an impending future where robots dominate all jobs. Mr Kohler says human interaction in care is still hugely valuable.

"There's an amazing amount of reward you get out of offering help and care to somebody that you love and you want to support," he says.

"So don't let's see robots as being replacements; let's see them beings add-ons. And I think that that is a sensible place to put them in in the panoply of care going forward into the future."

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