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Science & Technology
AIBO: The Newest Tech Craze

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AIBIO: The newest tech craze
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From Diana J. Choyce
Feb 07 -13, 2000

Looking for the newest toy to entertain your family and impress your friends and neighbors? Meet AIBO, a four legged "doglike" robot with its own emotions and instincts, brought to you by Sony Corporation. According to Sony, it learns by living and interacting with you, and thus develops its own unique personality. An interesting twist on the old adage that a dog is man's best friend. In fact, the word AIBO is named after the Japanese word for "pal".

Sony put AIBO on the market in limited quantities last June as a retail test. It sold 3000 units in Japan and another 2000 in the US. The units in Japan sold out in under twenty minutes and in the states it took only four days. Due to the overwhelming response, Sony decided to release another 10,000 "special edition" units in November. A total of 135,000 orders came in and Sony had to choose AIBO's new owners at random. From 15 February to 25 February of this year, Sony will again accept orders. And they promise to fulfill all orders received in that period rather than a limited run. AIBO appears to be on his way into the hearts of many consumers which one can imagine will make Sony very happy.

The attraction to AIBO appears to be in its interactive abilities. It was developed with the goal of making a robot that would coexist with people in a positive way. AIBO expresses emotions and can adapt its behavior patterns by learning from the people it lives with. When playing, it can express joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and discontent through movements and sound. It also has four instincts in love, search, movement, and recharge. Sony says that AIBO also matures much like people and animals do, going through the developmental stages of a toddler, a child, a young adult and an adult.

AIBO is equipped with 18 separate motors which control its movements. It can to walk on its four legs, sit, stretch, pop right back up if it falls over, crawl on its belly, and perform many other actions. It also has sensors which allow it to respond to touch, hearing through stereo microphones, and a color video camera and distance detector to "see" colors and avoid dangers. It "speaks" by using musical tones and melodies. Through all these sensors and senses, AIBO learns and responds to its owners similar to its canine counterpart. AIBO works in three different modes. Its autonomous mode allows it to learn and respond on its own. But it can also be switched to remote where it responds only to direct commands. In performance mode it will do tricks and strike different poses. In game mode it will respond to commands in order to play games including a soccer match if it happens to have another AIBO friend to play with it.

For the technical record, AIBO sports a 64 bit processor, 16 megabytes of memory, and 8 megabytes in program storage memory. Its imagine input is through a 180,000 pixel color camera, and for audio has stereo microphones and speakers. It also has heat, temperature, infrared, and pressure sensors. How long will it play? About one and a half hours on a lithium battery pack. And it weighs just under four pounds, and stands at about 11 inches. Oh, and AIBO comes with its own ball play toy that can be used to teach it discipline and of course to play soccer. A separate sound controller is used to control AIBO through different tones, and a special "Memory Stick" which was specifically developed to hold AIBO's programming and save its learned responses. A Performer Software Kit can also be purchased which allows one to modify and create new behaviors. And what will be the cost for all this fun? You can take one home through Sony's "Adopt AIBO" program for a mere $2500.00US, and add another $500US for the separate Performer Kit. One can order AIBO over the internet at the Sony website, or via postcard and phone orders. I'm not likely to replace my own loyal, real life dog for an AIBO, but one wonders how he would feel about a mechanical playmate.

On a sidenote, the Japanese consumer technology firm Thames, has just released a new "servant" robot one can take home for $47000.00US. The Tmsuk IV home robot is said to look a bit like Robocop in a dress. It is four feet tall and weighs in at 220 pounds. One can control it via a remote control pad and various pedals. It has cameras in place of eyes, and microphones in place of ears. Thames expects to sell at least ten robots in the first half of this year, which is a lofty goal given the price tag. But this robot is reported to do housework and give backrubs which might be ideal for weary housewives and bachelors. Also, the Sega Company of Japan, has introduced a more affordable "robot puppy", to be available in April of this year. The price tag on their version is only $28.00US, and the new puppy's name is Poo-Chi. This puppy also responds to sound, touch, and light but is far less complex than the Sony version. Sega expects to sell a million Poo-Chi's over the next year. This will indeed be an interesting millennium, but for now I must go and let my dog back in the house. He doesn't have a remote control.