We love Aibo, because how could you not love Aibo? Not only is it a sophisticated robot that you can actually buy today, but it’s super cute as well. To celebrate the one year anniversary of the new Aibo going on sale, Sony is announcing a special edition of the robot, an open API, and some new features that could make it a bit more useful.
The most visible new announcement from Sony is a special 2019 limited edition Aibo, a “chocolate” color to commemorate Aibo’s first birthday. This slightly beagle-y look comes with an even more limited edition black tail if you order one by February 14, but if you already have an “ivory white” Aibo, don’t worry—all the hardware inside is the same, which makes the rest of Sony’s announcements much more interesting.
First, Sony will release an accessible (and free) software API for Aibo in August of this year. The demo that Sony put on had Aibo pulling a tissue paper out of a box, and the entire thing was apparently coded in Scratch, a visual programming language developed by MIT that allows even novice users to create sophisticated behaviors by dragging and dropping customizable colored blocks in software:
It’s not immediately clear whether you’ll be able to get more into Aibo’s software guts than this, although we assume that if you want to use a more capable but more painful coding interface, you’ll be free to do so. Even with Scratch, though, it looks like there will be some relatively sophisticated functionality available, like measuring distances and taking angles to specific objects that Aibo can identify. That’s the key to making APIs like this useful, especially to people who aren’t robotics experts—making complex functionality easy to access.
A software update next month will also add a sort of “policeman” mode to Aibo. Badly auto-translated, this mode is called “Aibo Noodles,” but a better translation is probably something more like “Aibo Watchdog.” Given an Aibo-generated map of your home, you can designate a time and area that you want Aibo to patrol. You can also instruct Aibo to use its facial recognition to look for a specific person. At the appointed time, Aibo will go to the patrol area, and if it sees the person there, it will salute them and notify you.
To get this to work, Aibo needs to have a preexisting map of the area that you want it to search, which it makes by ambling around and recording obstacles:
Aibo managed to map 70 square meters in about an hour, which is very slow. The finished map also appears to have a bunch of unexplored areas, and the quality is not all that great—I suppose it’s maybe not that bad for a slightly wobbly quadruped that probably doesn’t have a camera optimized for mapping and that may have occasionally questionable state estimation, but there’s some obvious room for improvement here.
Sony also wants to remind you that:
This function is not intended for nursing care, child care, medical care, crime prevention, etc. We are not responsible for any incidents, accidents, damages, etc. resulting from the use intended for these purposes.
According to the Japanese site Robotstart, Sony also announced the formation of a partnership with Secom, a home security company. Secom sells stuff like cameras and smart locks, and offers a monitoring service that will “dispatch safety professionals” if something suspicious seems to be going on. There aren’t any specifics about this partnership yet, except to say that there will be future demonstrations of “new functions and services,” but it’s not very difficult to imagine where this is headed. Aibo has the capability to patrol your house when you’re not around, investigating sounds and motions. It could also investigate sounds and motions detected by other sensors in your home, sending you a live feed of what it finds. Or, it could send that feed to a monitoring service so that a professional human can decide what to do next—conceivably, that human could also direct Aibo remotely if they need more information about the situation.
Despite the cost, thousands of new Aibos have been sold, and there’s usually a waiting list as Sony releases new units in batches that you can reserve in advance. The chocolate edition Aibo can be reserved starting this week, and by the time you factor in the subscription price and protection plan and tax, you’ll be looking at a total of nearly US $3,400, spread out over three years. The “Premium Plan,” which includes more online storage for pictures Aibo takes, would add another $14 per month on top of that. It’s definitely an expensive robot, but hopefully the cost will go down over time if Sony can ramp up production.