Robotic Dogs to Roam the White House During the Holiday Season

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The holidays at the White House are not a solemn affair — the First Lady and her staff decorate many of the rooms and include about one dozen Christmas trees, countless wreaths, a gingerbread White House, and an official ornament (it’s a train this year, honoring “the administration of Warren G. Harding.” Huzzah!).

This year, they’re also including infrared motion sensors, crowd-sourced lighting, and, best of all, robot dogs. Bo and Sunny, to be specific, who will greet visitors on the annual holiday tours of the holiday-decorated White House, which will be unveiled on Wednesday.

The president pardons a turkey for Thanksgiving. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
The president pardons a turkey for Thanksgiving. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The high-tech touches are said to be an homage to the DIY maker movement, which the president and his aides have “embraced enthusiastically,” according to the Washington Post. The White House recently appointed Stephanie Santoso, a Ph.D. candidate in information science at Cornell University, as a full-time adviser for the decorations. Her first job: Making a chicken-wire version of Bo, whose head swivels every couple of seconds.

The Sunny robot dog, on the other hand, was made by another team — software engineers Bosco So and David Naffis — and it has a bit more pizazz, with infrared eyes and motion sensors, which make the dog turn in the direction of someone approaching.

The Obamas and their dogs inspect the 2014 holiday tree. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The Obamas and their dogs inspect the 2014 holiday tree. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Both dogs were made lifelike by White House chief floral designer Laura Dowling and her staff, who wrapped a mile of black ribbon around the wire frames to be the fur.

“I don’t think there’s a high-tech way of making that,” she told the Post.

The teams have made their code open source, and are encouraging others to “out-Bo Bo.” Next year, they plan to give the faux first dogs animated joints, which will allow them to jump.

The robotic dogs are just a part of all the technology that’s being thrown at this year’s holiday decorations; read about the rest at the Washington Post.

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