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Sony Unleashes New Aibo Robot Dog

Sony revives its dead canine and gives it more lifelike movements

2 min read
A photo of the new aibo robot dog from above.
Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters

Eighteen years after unveiling its original Aibo robot dog, and 11 years after putting it down, Sony has revived the product using advanced mechatronics and AI to create a cuter, smarter, and more lifelike version. 

The new “entertainment robot” goes by the same name as its predecessor, aibo, but its name is written in lower case. The robot itself is crammed with ultracompact 1- and 2-axis actuators specially designed by Sony. These actuators enable aibo’s body to move along a total of 22 axes. This makes for smoother, more natural movements—such as ear and tail wagging, as well as mouth, paw, and body motions—compared to the original Aibo. 

Photo of the new Sony Aibo robot dogPhoto: Sony

The new robot dog is also equipped with a fisheye camera in the nose and a second camera near the rear that both work with sensors to detect and analyze sounds and images, and help aibo recognize its owners faces. Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology allows aibo to adapt to its environment.

Controlling all of this is a 64-bit quad-core CPU. The robot’s power consumption is rated at 14 watts and the battery has a life of about 2 hours.

According to Izumi Kawanishi, Sony’s senior general manager of its AI Robotics Business Group, this combination of sensors and deep learning also helps aibo analyze praise, interpret smiles, and respond to petting, which creates “a bond with its owners that can grow over time.”

A SIM card connection provides aibo with mobile Internet access, which Sony plans to extend to connect to home appliances and devices. And Kawanishi said the company was also considering educational and personal assistant applications for aibo, but he gave no examples of how those would work. He added that other entertainment robots were a possibility in the future.

Photo of the new Sony Aibo robot dogPhoto: Sony

Whereas the original Aibo was robotic in appearance, the new aibo is far more dog-like and cuter. Sony has incorporated an OLED in each eye to enhance its expressiveness. The robot weighs 2.2 kg and measures 180 mm x 293 mm x 305 mm (width, height, and depth) when standing.

Sony said it expects aibo to appeal to older customers in their forties and fifties, as well as to children. The company sold 150,000 units of the original Aibo before the operation was closed down. Sony says it hopes to sell at least that number again but will need to see how pre-orders turn out to get a better idea of a sales target.

Kawanishi noted that data concerning the robot’s learned behaviors can be stored in the cloud, and if desired, owners can access such data from other aibos to extend the behavior of their own pet robots.

The robot doesn’t come cheap at 198,000 yen (approx. $1,750). In addition, users must subscribe to an online plan to get the full range of aibo features and settings. These include access to photos taken by aibo and to an aibo store where owners can download apps, as well as a virtual version of aibo they can control with a smartphone. A three-year basic plan costs 90,000 yen or about $800. A support and care subscription that discounts repairs by 50 percent is also available for 54,000 yen ($475).

Sony will start selling aibo on 11 January 2018, but only in Japan. Sony is waiting to see how aibo does there before considering selling it overseas.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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