Aibo (pronounced “eye-bo”) is a reboot of the robot dog Sony first introduced in 1999 and laid to rest in 2006 in a tragic round of corporate cost-cutting. This new litter goes on sale in the United States this week with much more lifelike movement, artificial intelligence and a cellular connection for a gobsmacking $2,900 each. If you’re looking for justification to spend that much on a toy, the American Kennel Club says the average lifetime cost of a dog is $23,410. Also: Robot dogs don’t poop.
Aibo works, in part, because real robots are catching up with what we’ve been trained by Pixar movies to find adorable. Aibo’s 22 joints — including one bouncy tail and two perky ears — and OLED-screen eyes communicate joy, sorrow, boredom or the need for a nap. Tell Aibo “bang bang,” and it lies down and flips over to play dead. Say “bring me the bone,” and the robot will find its special pink toy and pick it up with its mouth. It’ll even lift its back leg and take a simulated tinkle. Thanks to touch sensors on its plastic back, head and chin, Aibo responds when you pet or scold it. The only thing that ruins the effect is that Aibo’s mechanical muscles are noisy, making it sound like a baby Terminator on the march.
The idea, say Sony execs, is that Aibo is constantly growing. Aibo learns the faces of people who interact with it to develop personal relationships. It’s a claim that’s hard to verify, but Sony says no two Aibos have the same “personality,” because AI is shaped by experiences. If you give belly rubs and “good boy”s to your robot, you’ll get a more loving machine.