Sony's Aibo Robot Dog Is Coming to America

Packed with powerful sensors and AI, the new Aibo is smarter and cuter than ever but comes with a hefty price tag

3 min read
Sony's Aibo dog.
Photo: Sony

This past November, Sony announced that it was revivingits robot dog Aibo. The iconic robotic pet, introduced in 1999, won a lot of fans all over the world but had been discontinued for over a decade. The company said the new Aibo, with more advanced mechatronics and AI, would be available for purchase early this year, but only in Japan.

Now Sony is announcing that, after selling 20,000 new Aibos to Japanese consumers, it is making the robot canine available also in the United States. At an event at its U.S. headquarters in New York City, the company said it will be offering a “limited first litter edition” bundle starting next month, with expected delivery before the holidays.

This is the sixth generation of Sony’s robot dog. The biggest difference from previous models is a new cloud-based AI engine, which relies on a powerful on-board computer and advanced image sensors to make Aibo smarter and more lifelike. The new Aibo can recognize its owner’s face, detect smiles and words of praise, and learn new tricks over time.

And of course, it loves to be petted.

Petting Aibo and seeing what it seesAibo uses a camera on its nose to recognize faces—and detect smiles.Photo: Randi Klett

What hasn’t changed much with the new Aibo is the hefty price tag. The bundle will retail for US $2,900. It include an Aibo, Aibo toys, Aibo dog tag, and a charger. Also part of the package is a three-year cloud subscription plan, which is required for users to explore all features of the Aibo app.

Aibo videoGif: Randi Klett

Sony says the new product reflects its focus on the Japanese philosophy of “kando” to create an emotional connection with your new robot friend. Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics North America, said Aibo’s new dog-like capabilities will allow it to connect with its owners by “creating an experience so real and immersive that technology enhances the emotional enjoyment.” 

Aibo’s software uses deep-learning algorithms to recognize images and sounds. The robot also uploads a range of data based on its day-to-day experiences to Sony’s cloud, powered by Amazon Web Services. The cloud works as a database and AI engine to create each robot’s unique personality, which evolves over time. Future iterations will be able to learn where locations like the kitchen are, so that it can go to a particular room on command.

Aibo's tail and SLAM sensor.Next to the tail is a camera for simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).Photo: Randi Klett

But in addition to new software, Aibo also received a massive hardware upgrade. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, with 4 GB RAM and 32 GB ROM, plus Wi-Fi and LTE. It also integrates two cameras (one for image recognition and one for SLAM), time-of-flight sensor, three touch sensors, four microphones, motion detector, light detector, and inertial measurement units in the head and body. To move its neck, mouth, legs, ears, and tail, Aibo uses 1- and 2-axis actuators, for a total of 22 degrees of freedom. Its eyes are OLED displays. 

The “newborn” Aibo we played with at the NYC event today was friendly and affectionate, like a puppy. Other Aibos, on the other hand, had been playing with people for longer and were at a more advanced AI development stage. They could learn and remember tricks and sometimes even seemed to feed off of each other, like these, which decided to “play dead” together. Like children, no two Aibos will be exactly the same, Sony claims, since their personalities are shaped by the user’s behavior. These two have clearly been treated with a sense of humor.

Two Aibos play deadAibo, play dead!Photo: Randi Klett

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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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