A team at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA is developing a robot dog to perform the same functions as a service dog. Named El-E (pronounced "Ellie"), the robot can currently open doors and cabinets, fetch objects, repeat spoken commands and follow a laser pointer around a room.
Eventually El-E might be able to do things like dial cell phone numbers or relay medical information to doctors.
I know what many of you are thinking – "But you can't really replace the love and companionship the physically disabled receive from a real service dog." True, but there are definite downsides of service dogs as well, including:
Cost: It costs Georgia Canines for Independence $17,000 and 2 years to train a service dog
Time: Demand is so high, it usually takes people 5 years on the waiting list before they receive a service dog
If commercialization can get the cost of El-E down, a robot could help in both of these areas. It will probably never replace the service dog, but it also doesn't come with vet bills, food costs, and a hankering to be taken outside every now and again.