It won't get tired or distracted by squirrels, but the advantages of NSK's robotic seeing eye dog don't quite outweigh the fact that in its present form, it's very slow at tackling obstacles like stairs. So it will take a few years more development before this mechanical alternative has companion dogs looking for new work.
The guide dog featured in this video is actually the third prototype that NSK has developed, with research on the project starting way back in 2005. The latest version uses a Microsoft Kinect sensor to visually map obstacles like stairs in 3D, while sensors added to the quadruped's feet have helped minimize crashes. It's easy to critique the robot for its lethargic performance compared to a trained seeing eye dog, but the potential advantages of such a creation are very exciting. While voice recognition has only recently been implemented, in addition to simple commands like start and stop, users could one day tell the robot exactly where they wanted to go and a combination of GPS and wireless communications would let it automatically map out an ideal route.
The researchers at NSK have a lot of work to do before their creation could reliably lead a visually impaired user around town, but they're optimistic that the technology could be commercialized by 2020. [NSK via TechCrunch via Plastic Pals]