Bad Dog is tackling loneliness among China’s young–in a way that involves small electric shocks. The foot tall white plastic robot dog is the brainchild of industrial design graduate student Zhang Jianning. He hopes it will provide good company to the growing number of people living alone in China and his project is supported by a panel of big-name companies.

Bad Dog 事儿狗
The Bad Dog first generation prototype Fuli on display at Yunqi 2050 (Image credit: TechNode/Frank Hersey)

The first generation of the Bad Dog (事儿狗) Project, Fuli (福狸 ‘auspicious raccoon dog’) has an impressive range of features that mix Tamagotchi digital pets and any future dystopian fantasy of your choice. It can monitor your life signs, receive deliveries while you’re out and mimic all the pros and cons of having a real dog for city living singles. TechNode met the beast at the Alibaba-backed Yunqi 2050 event for youth engagement and innovation.

Spending time with Bad Dog 事儿狗
Mockup of an owner spending quality time with Fuli, from the Bad Dog Project. (Image credit: TechNode)

The 3D-printed pseudo canine took Central Academy of Fine Arts student Zhang just 50 days to prototype and his friend a couple of days to code. With a bit of help from a federation of big businesses.

Future Labs (睡前带你看未来 “Showing you the future before you sleep” or 睡前 for short) aims to provide a platform for young people to develop technologies that “bring value”. It has some big-name backers including Huawei, NetEase, and PwC. Zhang explained that if you need help for a particular part of a project, Future Labs can direct you through to someone from a partner.

事儿狗 Bad Dog plays cool
Bad Dog model playing hard to get with owner (Image credit: TechNode/Frank Hersey)

Fuli’s eyes are sensors and cameras for helping it navigate and interact. His head and face have sensors which can detect the actions of stroking. He sits upright and moves around on wheels with his arms folded. There is little attempt at making him in any way like a real dog, less so even than the headless Qooboo cats with wagging tails.

“He makes you talk back to something, proactively,” said Zhang who has experienced living alone in China.

Unlike real dogs, as far as we know, the Fuli Bad Dog also has an infrared sensor which he can use to measure his owner’s temperature. He will take this into account to decide the owner’s mood and try to react to that. If he believes the owner has been sitting or lying around too much, he’ll also take the temperature to assess whether the human is being lazy, is ill or has simply died. Zhang says it will be possible for the robot to contact emergency services via the internet. He admitted that the services may not take the device seriously.

If the owner has smart entry locks for his or her apartment, the dog can unlock the door via the internet to allow couriers to make deliveries. According to Zhang, once the parcel is in, the dog can coolly say “You can go now” in its typically distant manner.

Design for Bad Dog 2, the next generation, with clear panels. (Image credit: Zhang Jianning)

“Lonely people like bad people, like gamblers and drinkers” Zhang told TechNode explaining the robot’s disinterested appearance and manner. “Good people have no way of getting through.”

And at the end of a long day of loneliness reduction work, Fuli the Bad Dog trundles back to his bed which is a wireless charging mat.

If the owner mistreats his concept canine by ignoring him too much when he wants attention, not stroking him enough, by swearing at him too much (he’s trained to identify curse words) or allowing his battery to go flat too many times, Fuli can retaliate. His eyes will also become angry red lights if he calculates he has been mistreated. With more serious issues he will approach his owner and deliver a static electric shock.

Zhang is considering whether allowing the battery to go flat too many times will result in the dog’s death and whether that should be irreversible to encourage the owner to have more positive interactions.

Bad Dog bad treatment Yunqi 2050 事儿狗
Mockup of a Bad Dog receiving maltreatment from owner when seeking attention. (Image credit: TechNode/Frank Hersey)

This first generation has a number of small sensors that detect stroking by the owner, but Zhang is already working on the second generation which will have a larger array to determine just how affectionate the owner is. In the meantime, he is looking for investors to bring the device to market. The next generation will have clear panels on it so you can see the electronics inside. “It’s to mimic the effect of glass storage areas on a spacecraft,” said Zhang, “To look more high tech, to make people think it’s a ‘space dog’. If people know it’s just a toy from a factory in Shenzhen or Southeast Asia then they won’t pay it any attention.”

And its target market is growing in China. The Bad Dog Project has been developed to help the growing number of Chinese people living alone feel less lonely. The number of people living alone in China rose from 6% in 1990 to 14.6% in 2013. But cities can have much higher rates. Shanghai has the highest rate of one person households at 1 in 4. Zhang believes that China’s technological advances have left people isolate. There are more ways than evert to communicate, but there is no need for anyone to proactively get in touch.

Bad Dog at home 事儿狗陪你
A Bad Dog in situ. (Image credit: Zhang Jianning)

Whether Zhang finds the funding to take his second generation Bad Dog into mass production remains to be seen, but as an attempt to use technology in a non-patronizing way to help people feel a little more alive, even the prototype was getting people talking at Yunqi 2050.

Updated June 7 15:33 to clarify that ‘Bad Dog’ is the overall project and ‘Fuli’ the name of the model.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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