Watch Out Fido

By on Nov 24, 2017 in Technology

Just in time for the holidays, Sony has resurrected the robot pet it removed from shelves in 2006. This new model is called aibo, which stands for Artificial Intelligence robot. Aibo is also the Japanese word for “companion” or “friend.”

The new model (no. ERS-1000) develops from a newborn puppy to an adult with personality shaped by the interaction with its owners and surroundings, thanks to the latest AI technology. This ability to form an emotional bond with members of the family makes each aibo unique, so no two will be the same.

The new puppy’s rounded appearance makes it pretty irresistible. Sony has spent quite a bit on animation. That being said, I am personally a bit skeptical about how it feels to pet a piece of plastic, even though it’s premium plastic.

The pup has the capacity of expressing its love for its owners through lifelike expressions and a dynamic array of movements, but it does make one wonder—is this the future of pets? The robot pet has a behavioral repertoire more limited than that of the least bright dog, but an aibo doesn’t need you to feed it (technically, it does when you charge it), doesn’t wake you up at 5am to take it out in the pouring rain and will never make a mess inside your home.

Aibo’s ‘fur’ is ivory-white, and it has cute flapping black ears and a wagging tail. It’s about 30-centimeters long and comes with a package of sensors on the head, chin and back for pet detection, two cameras, four microphones for voice commands and internet connectivity, as well as the earlier mentioned upgraded AI backed by cloud computing to develop the dog’s personality.

The advantages of deep learning and AI tricks help it to better recognize faces, smiles and even spoken commands and praise—all these are intended to strengthen the bond with its owner. As it interacts with people over time, aibo’s behavior changes, adapting to its unique environment.

The pet’s technology can boost its intelligence—with its owners’ permission, aibo can collect data from these interfaces, connect to the cloud and access the knowledge accumulated from interactions between different owners and their aibo.

The aibo’s ‘heart’ is a 64-bit quad-core CPU, while its eyes are not those stunning OLED eyes—which it uses to blink and wink—but a nose camera and a SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) setup in the mouth. But those expressive OLED displays are pretty awesome as they allow for diverse, nuanced expressions. The pup runs on a rechargeable battery good for about two hours of playtime. Since we’re talking playtime, aibo has its own bone-shaped toy accessory, but it must be purchased separately.

The AI puppy will go on sale in January for about $1,742, with foreign sales being evaluated. Note that buying an aibo commits you to paying for an aibo basic plan (for three years) that costs about $26 per month. There is also a nearly $800 lump sum payment that goes toward LTE access and access to Sony’s cloud infrastructure. The big question is, why does it need LTE? Why not just Wi-Fi? And Sony doesn’t say what happens to aibo once the three years have passed, does it… die?