Sony Halts Support for Aibo, Still One of the Best Robot Toys Ever

Image: Sony
Five generations of Aibo robot dogs.

Sony stopped making the Aibo robot dog in 2006. In robot years, that’s ages ago. Still, many robot enthusiasts would agree that these little robotic pets remain one of the most sophisticated consumer robot toys that you can ever hope to own. In fact, after the first Aibo was released in 1999, Sony worked very hard to improve the robot with each generation.

While consumer robots ultimately weren’t profitable for Sony, the Aibo is now an icon (there’s one at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), and the company did a good job of supporting Aibo owners with accessible software and repairs. But that’s all over now. According to a Wall Street Journal story, Sony is officially discontinuing Aibo maintenance services, citing lack of available spare parts.

To give you a sense of what the fanciest Aibo (the ERS-7) was like, here’s a Sony promo video from 2004:

What’s not shown in the video are Aibo’s interactive features, like object and person recognition and following, voice interaction, and the ability to check your email and read it to you, among many other things.

Aibos are complicated, expensive robots (Sony sold some models for nearly US $2,000). They have lots of servos, and supporting the weight of the Aibo’s body, not to mention walking, is hard on them. With Sony no longer an option, Aibo owners have to resort to cannibalizing some old Aibos to keep others running, or take their robots to one of a handful of independent shops that are willing to try to make repairs (most in Japan). It’s an expensive process, and it’s only going to get worse, but for people who have been friends with their Aibos for more than a decade now, it’s absolutely worth it.

Sony tried to follow up the Aibo with Qrio, a small humanoid that used the same software as Aibo. But Qrio never made it past the prototype stage. More recently, Sony filed a patent for a robot that looks Qrio-ish, but as with all patents, that may not mean much of anything. Of course, we’d love to see Sony return to the consumer robotics market—maybe even revive Aibo some day. In the meantime, however, if you have an old Aibo, now is the time to start taking very good care of it.

Via [ WSJ ]



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