I SAY AIBO, YOU SAY aibo
Eighteen years after unveiling its original Aibo robot dog and 11 years after putting it down, Sony has revived their
pooch using advanced mechatronics and AI to create a cuter,
smarter, and more lifelike version. The new “entertainment
robot” goes by the same name as its predecessor, but it’s
written in lower case this time. (Huh?) The robot itself is
crammed with ultracompact one- and two-axis actuators that
have been specially designed by Sony.
These actuators enable aibo’s body to move along a total
of 22 axes. This makes for smoother, more natural movements
such as ear and tail wagging, as well as mouth, paw, and body
motions (compared to the original Aibo).
The new robot dog is also equipped with a fisheye
camera in the nose and a second camera near the rear that
both work with sensors to detect and analyze sounds and
images, and help aibo recognize its owner’s faces.
Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology
allows aibo to adapt to its environment.
Controlling all of this is a 64-bit quad-core CPU. The
robot’s power consumption is rated at 14 watts and the
battery has a life of about two hours.
According to Izumi Kawanishi, Sony’s senior general
manager of its AI Robotics Business Group, this combination
of sensors and deep learning helps aibo analyze praise,
interpret smiles, and respond to petting, which creates “a
bond with its owners that can grow over time.”
A SIM card connection provides aibo with mobile
Internet access, which Sony plans to extend to connect to
home appliances and devices. Plus, Kawanishi said the
company was also considering educational and personal
assistant applications for aibo, but gave no examples of how
those would work. He added that other entertainment robots
were a possibility in the future.
Whereas the original Aibo was robotic in appearance, the
new aibo is far more dog-like and cuter. Sony has
incorporated an OLED in each eye to enhance its
expressiveness. The robot weighs 2. 2 kg and measures 180
mm x 293 mm x 305 mm (width, height, and depth) when
Sony said it expects aibo to appeal to older customers in
their forties and fifties, as well as to children. The company
sold 150,000 units of the original Aibo before the operation
was closed down. Sony says it hopes to sell at least that
number again, but will need to see how pre-orders turn out
to get a better idea of a sales target.
Kawanishi noted that data concerning the robot’s learned
behaviors can be stored in the cloud,
and if desired, owners can access such
data from other aibos to extend the
behavior of their own pet robots.
The new robot dog doesn’t come
cheap at 198,000 yen (approx.
$1,750). In addition, users must
subscribe to an online plan to get the
full range of aibo features and settings.
These include access to photos taken
by aibo and to an aibo store where
owners can download apps, as well as
a virtual version of aibo they can
control with a smartphone.
A three-year basic plan costs
90,000 yen or about $800. A support
and care subscription that discounts
repairs by 50 percent is also available
for 54,000 yen ($475).
Sony will start selling aibo in
January 2018, but only in Japan. They’re
waiting to see how aibo does there
before considering selling it overseas.
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Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters