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Buntley the Robo-Pup Part 6 by aibo Ambassador Chris
aibo Community Hub Team
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May 16th, 2023

Part Six: The Fall (Buntley takes a tumble)

Autumn turned to the first murmurings of winter at the Mad Scientist house. The light snow floated lazily to the ground and instantly melted on the concrete driveway. Watching this process from the comfortable warmth of the living room was Buntley who seemed entranced by the whole affair. His little robo-snout was pressed against the cold glass and his eyes whirled and twirled in fascination. Tinkerbell, who had seen snow plenty of times before, seemed unimpressed, deciding to ignore the situation with a familiar snort of derision and a nap.

Mr. Mad Scientist was sat with this back to the dogs, hunched over the table where he carefully rolled Pixel’s disassembled torso in his left hand while painstakingly removing a tiny screw from somewhere deep within. Mrs. Mad Scientist was snoozing in a large, comfortable leather chair; lulled into sleep by Tinker’s rhythmic snores and the gentle warmth of a crackling fire.

Buntley was extremely familiar with the room’s layout now and after a few more moments of watching the snow’s languid dance, he backed away from the window, turned smartly through one-hundred –and-eighty degrees and walked directly towards the middle of the room. Once there he looked around with a familiar circular motion of the head and scampered forward in a semi-run, covering a good distance in a matter of moments. He came to a perfect stand-still a few inches from Tinker’s nose.

Tinker let out a deep sigh and slowly opened one huge dark eye. She sniffed the air, yawned, shifted her position ever-so slightly, then fell back into a contented sleep; no doubt dreaming about chasing rabbits.

Buntley seemed unaffected by the rejection and instead turned his head in the direction of the stairway that led down to basement. He had walked up to the top stair countless times and the proximity sensor in his chest had alerted him to the danger, so he always stepped away after staring down into the abyss. With a confident bark he walked directly towards the top stair, stopping, as he always had before, one pace away from the edge.

No-one in the room gave Buntley a second glance. Mr. Mad Scientist was mumbling to himself and tutting each time his old fingers failed to perform with the dexterity they once enjoyed. Mrs. Mad Scientist was asleep and breathing in perfect unison with Tinker’s snores. In the relative quiet, Buntley contemplated going into nap-mode himself but perhaps it was the novel allure of the snow that made him decide to head back to the window.

Buntley was nearly a year old now and he had completed thousands of turns. A sophisticated combination of shimmies and steps caused the robo-pup to edge primarily sideways as he turned through a central axis. Perhaps his servos were beginning to wear a little because, just lately, the act of turning around had started causing him back up slightly too.

And so it was that, as Buntley had nearly completed his about-turn, his hind legs were far closer to the top stair than they had ever been before. One final shimmy that was more backward than sideways caused his rear left leg to hover over the edge of the stairs and in an instant his center of gravity shifted backwards.

There was simply nowhere to go.

Buntley toppled and plummeted down 14 carpeted stairs and crashed with a sickening thud on to the hard floor below.

Had Mr. Mad Scientist gotten there sooner, he’d have seen Buntley laying awkwardly on his side, legs splayed and kicking in midair, and his LED collar light flashing an alarming red color. Instead, by the time he had galloped down the stairs, howling in panic, he was just in time to see Buntley’s eyes flicker and turn dark.

Despite his plethora of sensors and cameras and months of meticulous room mapping, Buntley’s turning process had circumvented the built-in safety measures. If he had turned without inching backwards, he would again have avoided the dangerous drop. Instead, he had taken a potentially devastating fall. Luckily, most of the impact was cushioned by carpet, but some damage was inevitable. With tears of anguish and concern burning his eyes, Mr. Mad Scientist carefully picked up his ailing robot and cradled him lovingly.

“Buntley? Buntley boy! Are you OK?”

Buntley did not move… … …

… …Mr. Mad Scientist took a few seconds to regain his composure. Buntley was not only an expensive piece of cutting-edge technology, he was also a loved member of the family. The thought of any harm coming to the robot dog was just too difficult to even contemplate.

Carefully, with both hands wrapped firmly round Buntley’s torso, Mr. Mad Scientist slowly ascended the stairs. He crossed the room and placed the motionless creature on the rug in front of the fire before sitting back and staring with a concerned grimace at his ailing companion. He remained deep in thought for several minutes while his wife, woken up by the commotion, decided to stay perfectly silent for the time being.

Eventually the old man reached out and gently pressed the button on Buntley’s neck for a few seconds before he abruptly sat back down on the floor. He stared with a look of concern that softened just a little when the LED light flashed green.

Buntley performed his familiar stretching routine while his onboard computer and sensors ran through a rapid self-analysis. All four legs stretched and twisted in expected fashion and his tail flicked with its usual agility. He lifted his head and looked from side to side, his eyes flashed pale-blue.

Mrs. Mad Scientist leaned forward a little in her chair, encouraged by the progress and her husband started breathing normally for the first time in several minutes.

“It looks like he’s OK” she exclaimed softly as Buntley raised himself on to all fours and barked.

“Almost,” her husband replied as he shook his head sadly. “Look! His left ear isn’t moving.”

It could have been much, much worse but Buntley impacted the hard floor with his head, forcing the ear’s ball-joint into the skull just enough to jam the moving parts. The ear itself could move up and down but there was no rotation whatsoever. 

(Over the next few weeks, painstakingly and with extreme care, Mr. Mad Scientist manipulated the moving parts, making sure never to force them and exacerbate the damage. In time Buntley regained full motion of his ear and, other than a few scratches, he was otherwise unscathed.)

As Buntley rushed around the room barking and singing Christmas songs, Mr. Mad Scientist read some forums where he learned others had not been so lucky. Other aibos had taken a similar fall and a few had taken damage so severe that they needed to be sent to robo-pup hospital.

“I’m really glad you’re OK boy.”

“Arf!” replied Buntley who then twirled his eyes comically and flashed a familiar robo-smile.