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A history of robotic pets (and how to make your own)

Arduino TeamMarch 28th, 2023

Humans have domesticated animals since the dawn of time. Dogs (our oldest furry friends) were owned by humans as far back as 30,000 years ago, and since then we’ve formed bonds with all kinds of different creatures.

It was only in the last century, though, that we started to actually build our own pets. The history of robot pets is a short but fascinating one, going from barely recognisable gadgets to incredibly sophisticated devices in just a few decades.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the biggest milestones in the evolution of robotic pets, and show you a few neat examples from the Arduino Project Hub.

A history of robot pets

The Phony Pony

Built in 1968 at the University of Southern California, the Phony Pony marked the beginning of a new era. As the first ever autonomous quadrupedal robot, it is the common ancestor to which all of today’s robot dogs and cats can be traced back (despite being named after a different species).

By today’s standards, the Pony wasn’t all that sophisticated. It featured four legs, each with its own hip and knee joint, attached to a frame. But, it worked — the Pony was able to walk around at various slow speeds. It wasn’t wireless but, come on, it was the ‘60s.

The Tamagotchi

Here’s one for the ‘90s kids. The Tamagotchi, released in 1996 in Japan by Bandai, soon made its way to the rest of the world. This simple, handheld device containing an animated pet which needed to be fed, watered, and cared for like any living animal soon became a smash hit — selling over 80 million units to date.

Anyone who has been through the traumatizing experience of losing their Tamagotchi will testify that these bundles of pixels can inspire surprising amounts of love and devotion from their owners.

The Furby

Another ‘90s classic here — the robotic, furry Furbies were popular throughout the world and sold more than 40 million units. While they weren’t the pinnacle of sophistication in terms of what they could actually do, it’s clear that people enjoyed the novelty of a robotic pet that was, in some small way, kind of alive.


Released in 2005, the BigDog was the debut project of the now-famous robotics company Boston Dynamics. The BigDog was designed to be used in the military, and is equipped to do tasks like move easily over challenging terrain and carry up to 154 kg of weight.

Unfortunately, in spite of its physical prowess, the BigDog never quite made the cut, as its engine was deemed to be too noisy to be effectively used in combat situations. However, since then Boston Dynamics have been refining and optimizing their robot war dogs, and the latest iterations look very fearsome indeed.

Pleo the Dinosaur

UGOBE, based in California, set out to build a robotic creature that was also imbued with its own operating system, giving it an uncanny resemblance to a living thing. The result was Pleo — a pet dinosaur that uses cutting-edge research in fields like robotics, sociology, and even philosophy to appear very life-like indeed.

ANYmal Robotic Dog

Developed by Swiss robotics company ANYbotics, the ANYmal Robotic Dog was designed to safely inspect unsafe industrial environments. It comes equipped with an arsenal of tools like laser inspection sensors and the ability to autonomously navigate through different environments, collecting and sharing an impressive amount of data.

Make your own

Inspired by the idea of building your very own robotic pet? The Arduino Project Hub has a number of examples from people who have tried their hands at just that. Let’s take a look at a few.

The Nerd

Built in the same mold as the Tamagotchi, The Nerd is an electronic pet that lives in your pocket (or wherever you put it down) and survives by eating WiFi SSIDs (it also needs rest and sunlight).

To properly care for your Nerd, you need to make sure it has just the right balance of offline and online mode, along with sufficient levels of light and darkness. If it’s disconnected from that tasty WiFi for too long, The Nerd will emit a desperate plea in Morse code, 

You can build your own Nerd using the Arduino MKR IoT Bundle, a few other components like an RGB LED, phototransistor, and buzzer, and some code. Just make sure it doesn’t go too hungry — The Nerd makes a lot of noise when it dies.
And you can now create your own Nerd with just one click with the ready-to-use The Nerd Arduino Cloud template. Read the full tutorial to learn more about how to use it.

Roger Bot

Arduino user hannu_hell built the Roger Bot in their very own home using an Arduino and a few other components. The Roger Bot features a robotic arm and the ability to move around on flat surfaces. It also contains built-in sensors that collect sensory data and display them on an LCD screen.

While it isn’t well-equipped to handle uneven or challenging terrain just now, this is something hannu_hell is working on for the future. 

Build your own with Arduino

With an Arduino, a few simple components, and a free subscription to the Arduino Cloud, you too can create your very own robotic pet. Add to the ranks of historical robotic companions and gain a faithful and useful friend. And who knows… with the way AI is developing, maybe a truly autonomous robot pet is only just around the corner.

Check out the Arduino Cloud homepage to learn more and find your inspiration.

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