Sony aims to take the lead in AI with re­turn of robot dog

Irish Independent - Business Week - - TECHNOLOGY - Yuji Naka­mura and Yuki Fu­rukawa

SONY is bring­ing back its iconic ro­botic dog, aibo. The new ver­sion (which Sony is mar­ket­ing as “aibo” in­stead of the prior “AIBO”) comes equipped with a pow­er­ful com­puter chip, OLED dis­plays for eyes and the abil­ity to con­nect to mo­bile net­works.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, the new pet toy re­sponds to voice com­mands and can bark, sit and wag its tail. It’s small enough to be picked up and has rounder edges. Pre-or­ders for the Ja­pan-only 198,000 yen (€1,495) gad­get be­gan yes­ter­day, with ship­ments start­ing in Jan­uary.

The AI-en­abled ca­nine is another sign of Sony’s will­ing­ness to take new risks. Af­ter a deep re­struc­tur­ing that gut­ted its work­force and prod­uct lineup, the elec­tron­ics maker now ex­pects to re­port its high­est-ever op­er­at­ing profit this year. CEO Kazuo Hi­rai, who has been work­ing on turn­ing the Tokyo-based com­pany around since 2012, has en­cour­aged en­gi­neers and mar­keters to come up with new ideas, from dig­i­tal aroma dis­pensers and self-fly­ing drones, to 3D sen­sors that can see the world.

“Sony’s mis­sion, and rea­son for ex­is­tence, is to be a com­pany that piques peo­ple’s cu­rios­ity,” Hi­rai said at a press con­fer­ence in Tokyo.

“I’m con­vinced that a robot that can con­nect with a fam­ily, and give them a joy, is an em­bod­i­ment of Sony’s mis­sion, and there­fore asked for the de­vel­op­ment of aibo a year and a half ago.”

The big­gest change is that the new it­er­a­tion will be more in­tel­li­gent and proac­tively in­ter­act with its owner. The tech­nol­ogy is based on work done by Sony-backed Cog­i­tai, a Cal­i­for­nia-based startup de­vel­op­ing AI soft­ware that learns con­tin­u­ally from real-world in­ter­ac­tions.

While the new web-con­nected aibo em­ploys AI, it’s meant to be more of a com­pan­ion or a pet toy, rather than a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant such as Ama­zon’s Echo or Google’s As­sis­tant. The word “aibo” means com­pan­ion in Ja­panese.

The first ver­sion of the ro­botic pet dog de­buted in 1999, and Sony stopped mak­ing them in 2006 as the com­pany re­fo­cused its busi­nesses. The orig­i­nal was ad­vanced for its time, re­spond­ing to com­mands and meant to recog­nise its own­ers. It could bark, sit up, lie down, wag its tail and play with toy balls.

With the new aibo, which has a SIM card slot for mo­bile in­ter­net ac­cess, Sony plans to con­nect it to other gad­gets and home de­vices. (Bloomberg)

Sony Corp’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Kazuo Hi­rai holds en­ter­tain­ment robot “aibo” at a Tokyo press con­fer­ence

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