The iconic Sony aibo has been resurrected, gaining all the technological bells and whistles that have developed since the last version was discontinued in July 2014. While the very earliest of the limited edition "First Litter" of the fourth generation aibo (ERS-1000) will not arrive in the U.S. until December, excitement for the robotic "puppy" companion has already reached a fever pitch and a new allotment of the first U.S. aibos has just become available in the Sony online store.
The new aibo adds an updated cloud-connected artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced image sensors to cutting-edge robotics. These features give each aibo an individual personality that develops as it interacts with users and learns what actions can make its owner happy. Since the interaction between each aibo and its owner will be unique, no two companion robots will share the same personality, behavior or knowledge.
"This is truly a one-of-a-kind product designed to connect with its owners on an emotional level," says Mike Fasulo, President and Chief Operating Officer of Sony Electronics North America. "aibo's charming personality, dog-like behaviors and ability to intelligently interact with family members help to create a personal bond. Bringing aibo back to the U.S. reflects Sony's broader commitment to provide consumers with products that not only entertain them, but also enrich their lives."
The hardware that drives aibo includes a wide range of sensors, cameras and actuators; the ultra-compact 1- and 2-axis actuators give aibo's body the freedom to move along a total of 22 axes. The tremendous flexibility of movement created by the hardware allows expressive body language through lifelike movement of aibo's head, tail, legs, and even ears. aibo's face has its own emotional range thanks to the OLED displays that are utilized for eyes, giving the appearance of looking about, blinking and closing.
The adaptable behavior of individual aibo companions is based on the deep learning AI technology that draws information from the built-in sensors that detect and analyze sounds and images. aibo will also learn through play with a variety of toys; the First Litter edition will arrive with a pink ball and an "aibone" to play with, while these and other toys will be available for further editions.
Users can also take their experience further with the "my aibo" app that will add to the aibo's repertoire of tricks, as well as view (and share) pictures from aibo's camera. The application is packed with fun-filled features, even for people who don't have an aibo of their own (yet). "My aibo" will be available for Android and iOS and a web-based version will be available (visit aibo.com/myaibo to see for yourself).
The 2018 aibo uses Sony's AI engine, a cloud-based system that creates a database of the companion's day-to-day experiences that forms the basis of its unique personality. The full range of aibo features are accessed via Wi-Fi connection or a mobile connection on the go through the aibo AI Cloud Plan.
Since being introduced by Sony in 1999, aibo's appearance has changed nearly as much as the technology within. The first consumer model aibo, the ERS-110 (released in 1999), was designed with a robotic appearance by artist Hajime Sorayama; winning the Good Design Award Grand Prize in recognition of Sorayama's design and Sony's execution. The ERS-110 was offered exclusively online in the USA and Japan, with 2,000 units and 3,000 units respectively; incredibly, it was sold out in less than 20 minutes in Japan and within 4 days in the United States. The overwhelming demand for the 110 led to the ERS-111, virtually identical in appearance and hosting only a few upgrades to the hardware.
The second generation aibo (ERS-210) was released in 2000 with a smoother design, and details that were inspired by a lion cub. The ERS-220 was released a year later, with a very industrial design from Japanese designer, artist, and producer Shoji Kawamori (famous for anime series Macross and his work on mechanical design for Ghost in the Shell). The hardware in these models made additional advances, but remained very similar to the first generation.
In 2001, the ERS-311 (Latte) and ERS-312 (Macaron) aibo models were released with a dramatically new design. This variation is sometimes referred to as the bear cub or "kuma-chan" due to the round, cuddly appearance, and is commonly criticized as being "too cute" or toylike. These aibo had a substantially lower retail price than all the other models in an attempt to market them to children – even starring in aibo anime Piroppo (which triggered sounds and actions from viewer's ERS-300s)
The immediate predecessor to the new aibo was the third generation (ERS-7) in 2003, which included substantial improvements in both the hardware and software, including the first wireless internet connectivity in an aibo. The upgrades allowed the cross-functionality of aibo to be regularly updated across all parts of behavior, instead of individual software for each activity — a tremendous advancement that gave the ERS-7 the most believable personality.
WHY ALL THE LOVE?
The artificial intelligence is what turned aibo from a toy into a pet — there are toy dogs that follow and bark, it is when they respond to the user that a deeper bond can be created. The longevity of the aibo brand that has led to its resurrection is a direct result of this deeper bond with many owners. The relationship between the robot companion and user has been well publicized; creating businesses that repair aibo units that were discontinued a decade or more ago, and others that perform Buddhist funeral rites to allow users to say goodbye to the robotic "puppy" companions that were part of their lives.
Earlier generations of aibo used software updates to refresh and improve the robot companions' personality and development, and the always-on connectivity of the new ERS-1000 will certainly give each new aibo their own personality. Just like a living creature, the personality will be always changing, and continue Sony's philosophy of kando – creating an emotional connection with their customers.
ADOPT YOUR OWN.
A public exhibit of the ERS-1000 in New York City ended in October, but two aibo remain on hand in Sony Square NYC at 25 Madison Avenue. Guests can ask to visit with Rocky and Maddie through March 31, 2019.
The "First Litter Edition" aibo, with the complete accessory bundle and three-year AI Cloud Plan, is for sale at a retail price of $2,899. The wait list for new orders has recently been lifted, visit the aibo first litter store page (direct.sony.com/aibo-first-litter-edition) to place orders.
More details are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. To get the latest aibo updates via email and find additional information on new aibo features and accessories, visit www.sony.com/aibo.