Interesting backstory

Volkswagen Bus part inspired popular dog toy

The classic VW Bus inspired one of the most popular dog toys of all time.

Volkswagen

Product designs sometimes take inspiration from the places we expect the least. Moments of genius are driven by finding solutions to unique problems, and as it turns out, that's exactly how we ended up with KONG. The beefy, durable dog chew toy is modeled after a Volkswagen Bus part.

Joe Markham's shopMarkham needed a dog for security, but he unexpectedly got a chew-crazy pet.Volkswagen

KONG's inventor, Joe Markham, adopted a German Shepherd to help with security at his auto repair shop in downtown Denver, CO. The dog, while a great addition to the shop, came with a few bad habits. The dog's most worrisome hobby was chewing, which he would do with almost anything he could find, especially rocks. As you might imagine, chewing on rocks is not good for the dog's teeth. Markham needed a durable chew toy, but nothing seemed to work, from animal bones to radiator hoses.

The solution came from an unlikely place: While working on a 1960sVW Type 2 Bus, Markham discovered that the rubber axle stop made a perfect chew toy. The dog had gotten ahold of the rubber stop, and while he was chewing viciously, neither the stop nor his teeth were damaged.

The discovery led Markham to spend the next six years experimenting with various rubbers, sizes, and shapes for his dog toy. After working with rubber experts in Germany, the design was finalized and the KONG was born. The shape for the toy ended up being very close to that of the axle stop. The funky, bulbous design meant that the toy wouldn't bounce like a ball, and would instead flop around randomly, which is similar to the way that small animals run away from predators.

VW Bus axle stopThe axle stop from a VW Bus inspired KONG's shape.Volkswagen

It's worth noting that you should not intentionally let your dog chew on any part of your vehicle. Even unused automotive parts can contain chemicals and other harmful materials that could make your dog sick or worse. This isn't a pitch to buy a KONG, just a warning about the hazards of car parts being used as dog toys.

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VW purchased the rights to the iconic Scout name and plans to make new EVs under the brand.

Volkswagen

Automakers bring back names and brands from the past all the time, but it's not every day that a major company purchases a brand name specifically for the purpose of reviving it. That's exactly what Volkswagen just did with Scout, the name of an ultra-popular off-road SUV that was built by International Harvester in the 1960s and 1970s.

As for the types of vehicles we'll see from the brand, we currently only have the renders to go on. The pickup truck and SUV both feature throwback styling that is reminiscent of the original Scout shapes. Beefy off-road tires and lifted suspension are the only other clues available in the drawings.

Volkswagen has its own EVs, and its other brands like Audi and Porsche have made significant progress with electric vehicles as well. That said, VW doesn't really have a solid off-road option from any of its brands at the moment, so the Scout purchase opens doors for the automaker in that arena.

The announcement sounds exciting, but we've still got plenty of time to wait before there's a Scout-branded EV on the roads. Volkswagen said the plan is to release vehicles by 2026, but it won't be sitting idle between now and then. The VW ID.4 is still very fresh and the automaker says it will launch a total of 25 new EVs in the U.S. by 2030.

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Toyota patented a dog-walking robot.

Toyota

Pets are one of life's great pleasures, but there's no disputing that they're a ton of work. Cleaning, vet visits, and walks are just the beginning, so it's always interesting to see the products that promise to make pet ownership more manageable. Toyota, the world's largest automaker, filed a patent for a self-driving dog-walking robot that looks nearly as advanced as many cars today.

Toyota Dog Walk RobotLogic helps the bot determine when to clean up a mess. Toyota

The main structure appears to be a platform with various attachments, and though the intention is for the machine to walk the dog for you, there's space for a person to ride. The vehicle is completely autonomous and does not require a person to guide it on walks. Sensors keep the robot from running over the dog and maintain speed.The patent paperwork includes several decision trees and logic for how the vehicle responds in various dog walking scenarios. One uses the vehicle's sensors to gauge the dog's distance from the robot. If the dog wanders too far, the machine can lock the leash and adjust its speed to maintain proper distance. It's the same sort of "thinking" done by autonomous cars on the road, just adjusted for scooping poop and leash management.

Speaking of number-two, dogs tend to poop when they walk, so Toyota had to prepare the robot for some poop scooping. In its decision-making process, Toyota added logic that asks, "Is it detected that the dog has pooped?" If the answer is yes, the machine is then instructed to "Execute collection process." A camera helps determine when the pooping has happened so the machine can do its job. If the dog pees, there's a water sprayer with an onboard tank to rinse the ground.

If your dog is anything like some of ours, it's likely you don't make through more than a few walks without some antics. Our lazy pups frequently get tired of walking and decide it's time for a mid-sidewalk nap, but Toyota's dog walker isn't going to tolerate any of that. The platform features paw sensors that can sense the dog's position and even let it do some driving.

Toyota Dog Walk RobotThe bot will scoop poop and wash away pee during a walk.

Toyota's patent filing is fun to think about and imagine what could be, but it's still just a patent. The automaker could turn its idea into a line of puppy walkers sold at dealers across the country or file it away as a thought exercise, never to be seen again. Either way, Toyota's got an exciting year ahead of it with the GR Corolla release and bZ4X hitting the streets, and there are rumors of a Crown SUV coming to the automaker's lineup.

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