The Pet Guide: Part Pet, All Tech
Using artificial intelligence and other technologies, Sony’s Aibo robodog evolves into a companion you may learn to love.
Studies show pets alleviate loneliness, improve mental and emotional health and can even reduce your blood pressure. But for those people who can’t have a pet—maybe because of living arrangements, lifestyle, allergies or other health reasons—there’s Aibo, the robot dog programmed to become your perfect pet.
The interactive robopet emulates the expressions and behaviors of a real dog while adopting its own personality and adapting to its environment. Best of all, it’s allergen-free, requires no feeding, will not eat your shoes or ruin your floors, and will never require a vet visit. But it may bark or nuzzle you or give you puppy eyes, much like a real pet, to get your attention.
“At the core of Aibo’s unique design are Sony’s leading-edge image sensing, [artificial intelligence] and robotics technologies, and this combination enables Aibo to intelligently and autonomously interact with its owners and physical environment,” says Michiko Araki Kelley, vice president of the New Business and Corporate Marketing Group of Sony Electronics Inc.
For $2,899.99 plus accessories, Aibo comes programmed with a plethora of tricks—shake, high five, dance, beg, roll over and many others—and can be taught to learn countless more. Aibo can continue to evolve through software updates that provide enhanced functionality, such as new tricks, and owners can connect with their Aibo, whose eye color and name are customizable, using an app.
Aibo displays puppylike inquisitiveness, mapping its environment and learning the faces and personalities of people with whom it interacts. Its interactions shape its responses, and its unique personality evolves as a result of its experiences. It even may try to interact with real pets, which may or may not be impressed.
And don’t worry about failing to preserve special moments: Aibo’s cameras take photos to create what the website calls “a database of memories.” Its cameras, sensors and microphones help it interact with users. The information it gleans has aroused some privacy concerns. But the information also helps shape it into your ideal companion, Kelley says, and companionship is at Aibo’s core.
Studies show Aibo and similar robopets are serving their purpose, especially among nursing home residents, who benefit from companionship and engagement. A 2008 study compared seniors’ responses to real and robotic dogs. “The most surprising thing is they worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments,” according to geriatrics professor and study co-author Dr. William A. Banks of Saint Louis University.
Sony reportedly sold 150,000 of Aibo’s first iteration, introduced in 1999. The company will not disclose current sales, but Kelley says the “first-litter edition” introduced in the United States in August 2018 sold out, “and we are continuing to see healthy market demand for Aibo this year.”
Kelley says she hopes Aibo will be a source of joy and inspiration to its owners, some of whom are less interested in the pet than the tech. “For those who are interested in evolving technology, Aibo is a great way to experience advanced technologies such as A.I. and robotics in their day-to-day lives,” she says.
The company has not announced plans for the next-generation Aibo, but it “will continue to develop underlying technologies and capabilities in robotics, image sensing, and A.I. with the intention of introducing all sorts of new consumer experiences in the years ahead,” Kelley adds.