I’m Dreaming of a White [House Dog-Bot] Christmas

bo and sunny obama dog-bot robotsSince 2011, holiday cards from the first family have featured Bo, their Portuguese Water Dog. Sunny, the Portuguese Water Dog they welcomed in August 2013, was also included last year.

This year, for the first time in U.S. history, the White House is sending out what it’s calling an “interactive” card — a 50-second video of the president and first lady wishing everyone happy holidays. No Bo. No Sunny.

But this doesn’t mean the first dogs are being excluded. No, also for the first time ever this year, the White House holiday decor will include two robot dogs modeled after Bo and Sunny. (Yes, Virginia, there was a mechanical Bo last year. Unfortunately, its tail got caught in the motor and started to smolder. Fortunately, it happened at the end of the holiday season.)

Three months ago, Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Santoso was appointed as the White House’s first-ever senior adviser for its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), helping it explore how Maker culture can help stimulate the economy.

An added perk, as the Washington Post noted, is that “Santoso knows how to design a dog robot.”

The OSTP’s Santoso, digital media senior advisor Mark DeLoura and intern Laura Gerhardt created the Bo dog-bot. During a photo session last month, an early chicken-wire version of robot Bo “swiveled its head back and forth about once a second,” the Washington Post reported, and OTSP experts “seemed pleased with the performance.”

The Sunny dog-bot was created by Presidential Innovation fellows Bosco So and David Naffis. According to the Washington Post, the Sunny dog-bot’s eyes contain infrared motion sensors that will make it turn toward someone approaching it.

To create the illusion of fur, White House chief floral designer Laura Dowling and her staff wrapped a mile of black ribbon around the dog-bots’ wire frames.

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

Next year, the design teams hope to create more advanced dog-bots that can jump and have movable paws. As for barking, the teams decided against it, concerned that the dog-bots’ vocalizing might scare children.

Bo and Sunny will also be featured on “lost” ornaments hidden throughout the White House that visiting children will be asked to find. The ornaments show the dogs “putting on their snow boots, dreaming of treats, building a snowman, singing holiday songs and hanging stockings on the mantel,” according to the White House website.

The official 2014 holiday theme will be unveiled to the media tomorrow. The Washington Post reports that along with the dog-bots, the high-tech decor will include infrared motion sensors and crowd-sourced lighting patterns. Also on display will be the winners of the first-ever 3-D Printed Ornament Challenge.

The White House website notes that decorations will also honor members of the Armed Forces and their families. A Christmas tree in the East Wing will be decorated with gold star ornaments in honor of those who made gave their lives for their country.

Want to see the dog-bots in person? Click here for information about taking a White House tour.

Photo credit: Pete Souza (that’s the real Bo and Sunny, not the dog-bots)

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!