Robo-Pup Attacks Toy Market

BBC News Online / Sci-Tech

May 11, 1999

Is robo-dog the pet of the future?

A metal hound went on show in Tokyo on Tuesday that can bark
but not hear. It can cock its leg but will not leave a mess
on the carpet. It can even sulk but will never die - at
least, not until its batteries run down.

The new toy was unveiled by Sony. Aibo, as it is called, is
one of the most advanced "toy" robots yet developed
commercially. The company hopes to drive an emerging market
in cyber-pets following the worldwide success of tamagotchi.

Aibo was put through its paces in a demonstration which
began when it stood up after being patted on the head. It
then waved hello with its front paw. Its best trick was
catching a pink ball, which it saw using the colour camera
installed in its nose.

Robot Domination

"The last 10 years of the 20th Century were dominated by
personal computers and the Internet," said Sony vice
president Toshitada Doi.

"For the next 10 years, until 2010, we are certain that
robots with independent movement will be the big thing."

The gleaming metallic puppy has 18 joints producing 250
types of movement. It can play ball, crouch as if urinating
and move its head, body and all its legs.

Aibo's owner can praise his dog by touching its head for
more than two seconds. A sharp slap on the head is
interpreted as punishment and puts the robot into a sulk.

Death Function

At the moment, most of the commands are delivered via a
remote control, but voice control is being worked on. Aibo,
which means partner in Japanese, can make plenty of noise
itself, barking, talking and even singing in English or

The dog is loaded with sensors including the colour camera,
heat sensors, an infra-red range finder, touch sensors,
acceleration and speed sensors and a stereo microphone.

A death function was debated by Sony but not included. Aibo
can be revived at any time.

The robotic playthings are expensive - 250,000 yen (Pound1,550)
each. They will be on sale on the Internet from 1 June. Sony
said it hoped to sell 3,000 in Japan and 2,000 in the United

Sony said it recognised that Aibo would never be a
substitute for real dogs. "It is technically impossible to
replace real animals with robots. In a sense, it would be a
profanity to God," said general manager Tadashi Otsuki.

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