First released back in 1999, Sony's robotic dog Aibo was so lifelike and animated that devoted owners are still doing everything they can to keep their ageing pets alive after Sony discontinued repair service on earlier models. But 18 years later, it might finally be time for them to say goodbye now that Sony has announced a new and improved version of the robo-pup.
All images: Sony
Powered by a 64-bit quad-core CPU and a rechargeable battery good for about two hours of playtime, the new Aibo is brought to life with custom-designed compact actuators that allow the robot to move along 22 different axes. To non-engineers that means the robot should be able to more convincingly recreate the movements of a real dog, including tail and ear wagging, individual paw movements, and a mouth synced to sounds. The only thing it won't do is shred your favourite pair of shoes.
Using a wide-angle camera hidden in Aibo's nose, a second near its tail, and additional sensors that can recognise touch inputs like petting, Sony says the robot will take advantage of deep learning and AI tricks to better recognise faces, smiles, and even spoken commands and praise, to help it form a strong bond with its owner - something we've already seen in the similarly pet-like Anki Cozmo. The company also hopes the introduction of expressive OLED displays used for Aibo's eyes will help improve the chances of humans interacting with it like a real pet.
When available exclusively in Japan in January of next year (Sony says it will test the market there before making a decision on selling the new Aibo in other parts of the world), the "entertainment robot" will also be able to take advantage of a SIM card so that it can access the internet and software updates even while you're taking it for a walk.
Unfortunately, the only improvement Sony didn't make with the new Aibo is its price tag. Like the original, this will be a very expensive toy, with a ¥198,000 ($2260) price tag. But to take advantage of all of Aibo's features, including smartphone connectivity and an app store that introduces new tricks and skills, owners will also have to subscribe to a three year online plan for ¥90,000 ($1027). Sony will even introduce an Apple Care-like service for the robot that discounts the cost of repairs for an additional ¥54,000 ($616). The high cost of ownership might be the most realistic part of Sony's new robot dog.