The Battle Smith subclass of the Artificer (TCoE, p. 19) has a Steel Defender companion, whose statblock includes a trait called Vigilant:
The defender can't be surprised.
This sounds good, and I often take the Alert feat specifically for that benefit. However, the Steel Defender is limited in what it can do with its turns:
It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes on its turn is the Dodge action, unless you take a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. [...] If you are incapacitated, the defender can take any action of its choice, not just Dodge.
If I am surprised, but the Steel Defender isn't, then it seems like all it can do is move and Dodge. Is that correct? If so, what is the point of the Vigilant trait?
The rules on surprise state:
If you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends.
Which is suspiciously similar to, but not the same as, the description of the incapacitated condition:
An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.