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 Afringe Home / Features / Aibo 11/30/2021 

How Much Is That Robo-Doggy In The Window?
by Steve Diabo (Kaneda)

It walks. It plays. It grows up and matures. It's Aibo, and it's the world's first production-model robotic pet. Released by Sony Entertainment in Japan last June and selling for 250,000 yen (About USD$2,500), the 5,000 units, all sold online, sold out within 20 minutes. So what's the appeal of the electronic pooch?

Well, this little doggy has some tricks to show you -- it's a far cry from any robot toy you may have had when you were a kid. The name Aibo came from the acronym for Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and the word "Robot" (thus the "bo"). The word "Aibo" can also be translated as "companion," "parter" or "pal" in Japanese. What sets this digital dog apart from any other robot today is its autonomous behavior. Aibo has such a wide gamut of A.I. functions that it has feelings, instincts, and the ability to grow and learn from its surroundings. Aibo communicates with people and expresses "real" emotions as it grows and matures. Aibo conveys highly sophisticated emotions, from happiness and sadness, to anger and fear, through physical actions, sounds, and eye lights. Specifically, Aibo's state-of-the-art Emotion model features six emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, dislike, surprise and fear, and his Instinct model features love, search (anyone who owns a dog and a TV remote control knows that dogs love to hide stuff and look for it a few days later...), movement (as in to move away from a dangerous situation), and "recharge instinct" (comparable to man's instinct to eat). Aibo's developmental stages are "toddler" phase, "child" phase, "adolescent" phase (I'm just guessing, but at this time maybe it's best to keep your Aibo away from Aibos of the opposite sex... ?), and "adult" phase. Aibo also has three basic modes in which it can function: Autonomous mode (in which it uses all the A.I. features to emulate a real live pet), Game mode (in which you can command it do do basic movements, like move forward and backward, and have it play with toys and the like), and Performance mode (in which it puts on a little show for you and does tricks).

And how does Aibo do all this stuff? Why, through the use of high-end consumer electronics and sophisticated sensory devices, of course! Aibo's on-board equipment consist of, among other refinements, a CCD camera to allow it to view and recognize colors, and to help it keep from bumping the walls in your house, no doubt. This allows Aibo to actually know what's what -- he even chooses a favorite color for his toys to be. Aibo also boasts a "sound controller", tone-recognition hardware that you can use through the remote control and an internal microphone in Aibo itself. This allows Aibo to distinguish musical tones, and predefined musical tones is how you give commands to Aibo. (Note, however, that in Autonomous mode, commands aren't given, you just praise him or scold him in response to what he does.) Aibo's software is kept on a Sony Memory Stick (the same device rumored to be used with the PlayStation 2), and is highly customizable, through use of extra software for Win95 (OSR 2) / Win98 / Win2K called "Aibo Performer Kit." Aibo has an on-board battery, much like a cellphone battery, and can be recharged using "The Station", a recharging base where you can recharge a spare battery, or recharge a battery already installed in Aibo while he's "sleeping." The Station also serves as Aibo's home base. Aibo also comes with a pink ball to play with. Wow! A pink ball!

Some people find it hard not to fall in love with Aibo, and some just find it creepy, dismissing it as looking too much like "Robocop's pet dog" to grow on them. Well, it's up to you to judge for yourself. It is the year 2000, after all, and while we may not have the flying cars, the flawless Virtual Reality, or the cities on the Moon -- at least we have the robot dogs.

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