Amazing 60 year old robot dog is a mystery

The robot dog you see above is a mystery. [Daneil Dennet], a professor of philosophy at Tufts University found this in an antique shop in Paris.  Apparently it has no identification and no one has been able to tell him anything about it. It was made in the 50s, and that seems to be all he knows. He’s offering a reward to whomever can reveal its secrets. There’s a full gallery of pictures to browse through that reveal some of the construction, but not a whole lot of the function.

We are just blown away by the construction here. Look at all those switches! Can you imagine how easy to reverse engineer things would have been back then? Surely in the right hands, someone could get this thing working again. Then again [Daniel] might like it kept completely original. If you know something about this robot, you can find [Daniel]‘s contact information here.

Oh, and yes, we realize it looks just like k-9.


  1. DiRWiN says:

    obviously just an early model of K-9, tell him to wait a couple hundred years and hell find out its history

  2. anon says:

    looks more like jimmy neutron’s dog, Goddard.

  3. retepv says:

    Why choose between keeping it original or repairing it? Why not copy it with all new materials?

  4. Max says:

    K-9! Didn’t think I’d see you again here, now!

  5. Mr F says:

    This thing is all kinds of awesome, it should be in a museum.

  6. bADitCH says:

    That’s pretty sweet!

  7. Volectorus says:

    404… meh ill try again later

  8. MS3FGX says:

    Wow, I have the feeling I’ve seen this thing before, but I can’t remember where…

    • nes says:

      Yeah, I think I’ve seen a picture of it in an old book from the 70’s by something like Paulson or Powelson perhaps? IIRC there were blueprints too but for a different dog with a full cowling.

      The relays and tag boards look like pretty ordinary telephone exchange stuff to me. If so it shouldn’t be too hard to find spares for it.

  9. anyone says:

    is the site down or something? looks very cool. hopefully it becomes operational without adding newer than 1955

  10. Tigger says:

    Odd, I am getting 403 error. =\

  11. ironring says:

    It looks very reminiscent of Grey Walter’s tortoises, but clearly more complex. Perhaps built by him or a student who worked with him?

  12. retepvosnul says:

    Is there any indication that it does anything at all, apart from simply roll or do quarky movements.
    It all looks to pretty to be functional. I think its a movie prop with very very limited and non-automated movement if any.

    It mostly reminds me of steampunk constructions of nowadays.

    In 60 years, this story will be about a millennium falcon, having realized that Starwars is rubbish and having forgotten all about that horrid piece of spacepulp.

  13. pidge says:

    It reminds me of the battery-powered toy dog character in Maggie and the Ferocious Beast (I have kids, they happen to like the show)

  14. John says:

    It looks like the stuff of nightmares. Probably on par with the Daleks. Definitely don’t want to meet it in a dark alley.

  15. Tom says:

    Has Hackaday just slashdotted its first site?

  16. LeeRay says:

    I remember reading an article several years ago about a guy in the 50s or 60s who claimed to have made a robotic dog that could find its charging station with blinking lights. I believe he was an animal behaviorist, and he was trying to show complex behavior erupting from simple rules before it was trendy. This looks like how I remember the picture from the article.

  17. Guillem says:

    while the main site remains down you can check more pictures at:

  18. Cubby says:

    Hmmm….since someone mentioned K-9, is there a chance that anyone might have or know where a set of drawings and schematics could be found. I’ve always wanted to try to build a replica.

  19. liebesiech says:

    All this years I wondered where my spare parts ending up all the time! Grandmaaaaa!!!

  20. ejonesss says:


    did you check the permissions correctly?

  21. It’s not real, it’s just art. It was covered by TechTV (back in the day).

  22. Rob says:

    I swear, this thing was pictured in one of my school textbooks years back.

  23. Devon says:

    Could it be this robot dog from Paris described in the May, 1930 Popular Science (p. 48):

    “Robot Watchdog Fights When Light Hits It”

  24. Axl Laruse says:

    The gallery doesnt have the right permissions needed for accessing

  25. acomputerdog says:

    he needs to try and run it. i saw some batteries sticking out of one side, he should pop in some new ones and see what it does!

  26. barry99705 says:

    This is on a book that you can buy on Amazon.

  27. him@heyyeah says:

    The only mention of it’s age I can find is on HAD. Why do we assume it’s made in the 50’s? It’s pretty common for individuals to use materials or tech in construction before their ‘official’ invention date or try and intentionally antiquate something.

    So who came to the conclusion that it was made in the 50s and how?

  28. Jeff Wallin says:

    It reminds me of the dog from Nightmare before Christmas

  29. cliff says:

    The carriage reminds me of a GE canister vacuum cleaner from the mid 50’s.

  30. Bene says:
  31. madcows says:

    Interesting. Looking at some of the additional pictures, you can see that this thing is littered with a ton of switches, some even integrated on at least one wheel. That makes me think it’s at least crudely “programmable”.

  32. Martin says:
  33. MaybeDick says:

    A story:

    Boy meets Girl. Boy graduates MIT. Boy gets job at IBM. Boy slowly goes insane with repetitive tasks for what seems an eternity. One night, while sleeping in the garage due to marital distress, Boy finds broken Hoover vacuum cleaner. Boy steals parts from job, Boy spends nights assembling “new best friend,” Boy shows pet project to Boss, Boy gets promotion in exchange for rights of ownership, Boy takes Girl out to dinner to celebrate, Boy meets Girl again.

  34. xrazorwirex says:

    I’d be very surprised if it was actually designed to work and wasn’t just all aesthetics…

  35. Yeah, a lot of these parts look like old telecoms components.

    You can get pretty elaborate behaviours with a simple array of electrochemical “memistors” and relays, even up to something that would take an FPGA nowadays to duplicate.

    Shame it doesen’t work, it would be interesting to see what it does when powered.

  36. kevin says:

    looks like dennet is the one to contact. there is a cartoon of him with the mechanical dog.

  37. Nextuz says:

    Steempunk meets Sony AIBO ;)

  38. xorpunk says:

    It has no sensors or analog gates, the lights just light up and it has switches to control direction for motor polarity.

    Whoever made it was exceptionally talented in multiple fields though. Whoever made it is dead or retired by now.

  39. Alex says:

    That is one of the most buitiful things I have seen, I believe (mainly from the motor on the rear wheel and sensor on the front offside wheel) that this has basic functionality, looks like the mouth can be opened and closed also from the hook, though I would say 40 – 50% of the innards are for display purposes only or to “guild the lilly” as I would put it. It very much appeals to my desire to over-engineer everything I build :-)

    • hawkeye18 says:

      Ultra Pedantic Dick Moment: It’s “Gild the lilly”, not “Guild the lilly”. A Guild is an association of (generally skilled) people, usually craftsmen. (Or, on the internet, an association of nerds.) To Gild is to very thinly overlay with something, usually gold. Thus, gilding a lilly would be covering it in fine gold leaf, which is–I believe–the effect you were going for.

      The more you know!

      • Anonymous Pedant says:

        It’s a misquote – the original Shakespeare quote is “to paint the lily”, not gild. Am I king of the pedants now?

      • guplik says:

        Extra Ultra Pedantry:
        The original phrase uses “Lily” (a flower) not “Lilly” (a person’s name)

        …unless “Guilding The Lilly” is a personal phrase of Alex, in which case we’re both wrong ;)

  40. Ryan Mercer says:

    That thing is awesome!!!

  41. muth says:

    Pretty impressive, but what could be the power supply ? I cannot believe all these relay and motors are powered by the tiny red battery.

  42. Fili says:

    I don’t understand why is everybody so excited about this. It’s just a vacuum cleaner with some wheels, a motor and lot of useless wires.
    I had some books from the 60’s that showed how to build something like this including light-following function with 2 photo-diodes (the large ones, like vacuum tubes). I did it when I was 12 or 13 years old (had to convert the schematics for modern components like tranzistors and stuff).

  43. Kevin says:

    Google Image Search FTW:

    • ftorama says:

      Looks like you found Daniel Dennett, the owner of the robot, and actually the guy looking after information about this robot.

      You should try to read the articles….

  44. Bloodlock says:

    It looks more like that robots from Tom & Jerry show…

  45. Miroslav says:

    I would place the thing into 1959-1965 period, based on latter type of 2N107 transistors ( Schematics anyone?

  46. Power it up! says:

    I disagree that this device is nonfunctional.
    Y’know how you can admire the steampunk aesthetic of ornate brass glued onto a watch face, but you get a completely different sensation when you look at an actual Victorian watch? That’s the impression I get when I look at this dog. I haven’t a clue what it’s supposed to do, but it’s very clear that it does something.

    Every wire in those pictures appears to go somewhere. At least one gear attachment appears to govern head positioning, and another gear is in a suitable place to turn the eyes. The presence of transitors and selenium cells and what appear to be nearby coils/solenoids, plus the positional encoder that someone mentioned up there, does not appear to be coincidental. Transistors weren’t exactly cheap, and certainly not readily-available, at the time this thing was built. Printed circuit boards didn’t exist – the freehand wiring style (using terminal junctions and tiny wiring harnesses in preference to solder joints) is consistent with the wiring I’ve seen in a 1930s tube-based radio, and/or a 1950s tube-based oscilloscope.

    If I owned this, I’d take a close look at it, figure out what sort of power source it wants, clean and lubricate the mechanical bits as best as I could, and with the utmost of care, power it up.

    If it looks like it wants AC, use a Variac and a light bulb in series. If it wants DC, make damn sure you get the polarity right, and then try it for a second or two at 1.5V, 3.0V, etc, until something clicks, hums, or moves. Power it down and probe around it with a fingertip to see if anything’s getting unduly warm. Clean, lubricate, repeat.

  47. Frictor says:

    Seems we have a number of good posts on this and that some of the previous posters have found the solution. So what about getting it confirmed by “History Detectives” on PBS? I’m sure they’d love to get their hands on this beauty, and they’d probably be able to provide an interesting story to boot.

    • Frictor says:

      Whoops, no solution found, just references to the man looking for more info on it. I’d still like to see it on “History Detectives” or some other show that digs up history on old things like this.

  48. Patrick says:

    Some People who visit Bunnies Studios might have to say something about that dog too,
    but that is only a guess, because i#ve seen people identifying circuits and parts just from photographs.

  49. Whatnot says:

    Looking at the plastics and the colorful PVC wiring I do not believe this was made in the 50’s.

  50. *robot says:

    The Squee electric squirrel – 1951 – the first true robot has very similar construction: squee 1951

    Robots Squee, Rudy, and Franken 1952-1953 mentioned here:
    computer history

    Franken maze robot mentioned here:
    blinkenlights berkeley report

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