Sony Lets New Robo-Pet Out of the Kennel

Sony Corp. let its new robot pet, complete with waggling ears and attitude, out of the kennel today.

The souped-up successor to its original “Aibo” dog, unveiled at a Tokyo news conference, has an array of new features that enable it to experience “intimate interaction with people,” Sony said.

Equipped with a camera in its nose to snap those special moments, it can also better express anger or joy and has a much cheaper price tag — a sign that Sony is getting serious about the pet robot business.

“From the first day you interact with Aibo it will become your new companion,” a Sony promotional video said as several new Aibos were shown cavorting, waggling their ears and avoiding objects in their path.

The second-generation Aibo, called the ERS-210, will be available for order from November 16 at a price of 150,000 yen ($1,400) in Japan, much cheaper than the first Aibo’s 250,000 yen price tag.

It will sell for $1,500 in the United States and 1,500 euros ($1,300) in Europe.

Despite the steep price, the first 3,000 Aibos sold out just 20 minutes after going on sale over the Internet in June 1999. Sony has shipped around 45,000 of the cute, metallic canines worldwide since the 1999 launch and said it was ready to handle 60,000 orders a month for the new version.

Robot’s Best Friend?

Sony had no sales forecast for the new robot, but said it considers this version a serious profit-earner rather than an experimental machine.

“The first-generation Aibos proved and made the market aware of the potential robots have of creating their own entertainment industry,” said Sony Chairman Nobuyuki Idei.

“For the second generation, we foresee the Aibo taking off as a serious business.”

In August, Sony set up a separate firm, Entertainment Robot Company, to help develop the consumer market for Aibo-type machines.

“We see ourselves as pioneering a new market in a fashion similar to what we did with the Walkman [personal stereo] in the 1980s,” said Satoshi Amagai, president of the new company.

Since Aibo’s 1999 launch, the market for robot pets has become more crowded, but no rival has similar state-of-the-art technology or such a high price tag.

Sega Corp.’s “Poo-chi” robo-dog, for example, has six different “emotions” and light and sound sensors that enable it to respond to its environment.

The first Aibo had a built-in computer, which enabled it to learn from experience and react to commands or a human’s touch.

Its new friend, available in three colours, has more touch sensors and has been given greater freedom of movement to enable it to express more emotions. It also has a more feline look to it, a deliberate attempt by Sony to shake off the dog image and make the Aibo a unique creature.

Helped by a more powerful internal computer, it can recognize up to 50 simple words and even imitate the intonation of human speech, Sony said.

It also comes with a bewildering array of accessories, including a carrying bag and an “Aibo fun pack” that enables owners to play games with it.

An “Aibo Master Studio” software package, priced at 50,000 yen, lets owners program and edit original actions for Aibo on a personal computer, which can then be transmitted to the robot through wireless technology.