The robot that can train your dog better than you can

And in some ways the Companion Pro knows your dog better than you do.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, smart home, digital health. Credentials
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Brian Cooley
3 min read
Companion Pro and phone
Companion Labs

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many routines, including those of pet guardians and their dogs and cats. Right now, that change is probably positive: Humans and animals are spending more time together as families shelter in place. But soon millions will return to work and school and pets will be left alone again, often bored or suffering from destructive separation anxiety. Ex-Googler John Honchariw has developed a robotic pet trainer that can fill those hours with engagement and learning instead.


Honchariw's Companion Labs, a San Francisco startup developing a new robotic AI pet trainer called Companion Pro, is in an early stage but just announced that it will start to place some of its professional training devices into homes. "Essentially we act as your proxy when you're away," says Honcahriw. "When you can't be with your dog, the Companion can help."

The CompanionPro claims to detect the nuances of a dog's reaction to training precisely using computer vision and its Tensor AI processing unit.

Companion Labs

The device combines a sensor pack of visual, infrared and motion detectors with machine learning, audio that can include your own voice and a novel "treat launcher" that accurately tosses a bite-sized piece of positive reinforcement when the machine sees the dog exhibiting a desired behavior. The machine notices desired behaviors autonomously and will start rewarding them. Later, those machine-reinforced behaviors are associated with human commands and gestures.

Watch this: Dog training will change in the era of new normal

"Once [the machine] knows that your dog is really comfortable and having a good time, we look for the behaviors that you want to train," says John Honchariw, CEO and founder of Companion. "Once we see those behaviors, whether it's sitting, coming toward the device or staying, we reinforce them" with a proprietary treat launched toward the dog from the machine. The machine's autonomy can extend the scale of training in a facility, while its constant presence and endless patience can enhance the speed of training, according to Honchariw.

Companion Pro launches treat

That blur is a training treat being launched from the slot at the top of the Companion Pro robotic pet trainer.

Companion Labs

Companion has been developing its technology with with input from the San Francisco SPCA, where Wailani Sung is a staff veterinarian and board-certified animal behaviorist. "Dogs can learn, but there's also a certain skill set and time commitment an owner needs to have," says Sung. "If you don't have that skill set, the unit can (make sure) your dog has the foundation and then the owner can come in and the dog can generalize from the computer to the owner."


Honchariw and Sung have a lot more to say, watch or listen to the interview above for the full story.

CompanionPro is available for preorder for mid-2020 delivery to animal organizations, in addition to the new program that will put a limited number into homes. Like many new tech products, it's offered as a service, with $499 and $249 monthly fee tiers, depending on how many dogs a business wants to be able to simultaneously train with it. However, founder Honchariw has also stated that Companion Labs will "always operate on a nonprofit basis with nonprofit shelters."

Now What is a video interview and panel series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers covering the major changes and trends impacting business and how consumers connect in the "new normal" 2020 world and beyond. There will always be change in our world, there will always be technology helping us navigate that change, and we'll always discuss surprising twists, turns, and potential solutions.