At CES 2020, one of the more well-represented gadget categories was definitely consumer robots -- but none was more adorable than MarsCat, a new robo-pet from industrial robot startup Elephant Robotics. This robot pet is a fully autonomous companion that can respond to touch and voice -- and even play with toys, and it's hard not to love the thing after spending even just a brief amount of time with it.
MarsCat's pedigree is a bit unusual, since Elephant Robotics is focused on building what's known as "cobots," or industrial robots that are designed to work alongside humans in settings like factories or assembly plants. Elephant, which was founded in 2016, already produces three lines of these collaborative robots and has sold them to client companies around the world, including in Korea, the U.S., Germany and more.
This new product is designed for the home, however, not the factory or the lab. MarsCat is the startup's first consumer product, but it obviously benefits immensely from the company's expertise and experience in their industrial robotics business. With its highly articulated legs, tail and head, it can sit up, walk, play and watch your movements, all working autonomously without any additional input required.
While MarsCat provides that kind of functionality out of the box, it's also customizable and programmable by the user. Inside, it's powered by a Raspberry Pi, and it ships with MarsCat SDK, which is an open software development library that allows you to fully control and program all of the robot's functions. This makes it an interesting gadget for STEM education and research, too.
MarsCat is currently up for crowdfunding on Kickstarter, with Elephant having already surpassed its goal of $20,000 and on track to raise at least $100,000 more than that target. Elephant Robotics CEO and co-founder Joey Song told me that it actually plans to ship its first batch of production MarsCats to users in March, too, so backers shouldn't have to wait long to enjoy their new robotic pet.
There are other robotic pets available on the market, but Song thinks that MarsCat has a unique blend of advanced features at a price point that's currently unmatched by existing options. The robot can respond to a range of voice commands, and will also evolve its personality over time based on how you interact with it: Talk to it a lot, and it'll also become "chatty," play with it frequently and it'll be a playful kitty. That, combined with the open platform, is a lot to offer for the asking backer price of just $699 to start.
Sony's Aibo, the canine equivalent of MarsCat, retails for $2,899 in the U.S., so it's a bargain when considered in that light. And unlike the real thing, MarsCat definitely doesn't shed, so it's got that going for it, too.