The first Sony Aibo robot puppy was launched in 1999. It went by the name Aibo ERS-110. It was one of the most sophisticated pet robots at the time. The beagle-like puppy sold out online within 20 minutes.
Sony continued to create several more wildly successful pet robots in the Aibo series. The most popular was the Aibo ERS 2010, which was capable of displaying different emotions as well as making complex limb movements.
The most advanced was the Aibo ERS-7, which had the ability to adapt to its owner’s personality. It could also connect to other devices wirelessly to transfer photos.
Sony finally shuttered the line in 2006 citing profitability issues. But now, 11 years later, they have announced the release of a new robot puppy. They are calling it just ‘Aibo’. The model number is ERS-1000.
Sony has re-launched their Aibo line just when consumers are getting spoiled by the many choices in the market. From Hasbro’s Joy For All pup and cat to the WowWee Chip robot dog, robot pets are no longer a novelty. They have become more advanced, acquiring new ways and tricks to imitate real pets.
So maybe it’s a good thing that Sony is releasing the Aibo in Japan only. With a price tag of around $1,700 plus a monthly subscription of $26 (for a minimum of 3 years), I am not sure how well it could have sold in the US despite its cute abilities.
What Can Aibo do?
$1,700 is a steep price tag for a robot puppy. WowWee Chip, which is one of the best robot dogs (read our Chip robot dog review), sells for less than $200. So what special tricks can the Aibo do?
It has 22 axes along which it moves. Unlike most robot puppies, it doesn’t have wheels. Instead, it walks like a normal puppy. It can wag it’s tail, scratch it’s ears and turn its head in different directions. The new advanced actuators in the Aibo pup provide smoother and more real like movements.
Its two eyes are actually OLED panels that can display different emotions depending on the situation such as when you are scratching its head.
The puppy also comes with several sensors that allow it to interact with its owners and its environment. For instance, if the owner comes into the room it runs towards them. It can also sense when the owner is smiling.
The best feature of the Aibo pup is its ever-growing intelligence.
Artificial intelligence has come a long way since Sony sold the last Aibo. Sony itself has kept up research into artificial intelligence and robotics. They used new AI research to make the Aibo a truly smart pet. It can learn from its experiences and surroundings and adapt to them.
For instance, it will take note and remember which actions made its owner happy. It then repeats these actions more often to elicit the same happy reaction in the owner.
And it can even learn from the experiences of other Aibo pets since they are all connected to the cloud.
Sony says it can also form emotional connections with its owner.
In a news briefing, Kazuo Hirai the CEO of Sony said, “I asked our engineers a year and a half ago to develop AIBO because I strongly believe robots capable of building loving relationships with people help realize Sony‘s mission.”
The Price Tag
$1,700 is just the base price. You have to get a monthly subscription worth $26 for a period of at least 3 years.
The subscription gives you access to more features in an accompanying app, cloud backup, WiFi and LTE connectivity. There is also the option of spending $26 more for a bone accessory called Aibone.
Currently, Sony plans to release the robot pet just in Japan in January next year. But they are not ruling out overseas sales later on.
Granted, this is a really smart pet with features you most likely won’t find in most pet robots. The ‘learning’ capability is a big plus that allows it to form deep connections with its owner.
But most people may also find features like WiFi and LTE connectivity to be too much. Not many will be willing to pay a monthly subscription for a robot puppy, not to mention the already high initial cost.