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I’VE BEEN giving a robot belly rubs. I’ve scolded it for being a bad, bad boy. I’ve grinned when it greets me at the door.
What’s this feeling? Oh, yes, puppy love. And I felt it for Aibo, a new “autonomous companion” dog made by Sony.
Aibo (pronounced “eyebo”) is a reboot of the robot dog Sony first introduced in 1999 and laid to rest in 2006 in a tragic round of corporate costcutting. This new litter goes on sale in the United States last week with much more lifelike movement, artificial intelligence and a cellular connection for a
gobsmacking US$2,900 (RM11,890) each. Not that Aibo, about the size of a Yorkshire terrier, can replace an actual dog. I let mine play with a real seven-week-old pup and was reminded of all the ways Aibo is just a fraction of the real thing.
Yet here’s why Aibo matters: Despite all those limitations, I fell for it. Over two weeks of robot foster parenting, almost every person I introduced to Aibo went a little gaga. The Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers got us to open our homes to new ways to interact with computers. Aibo offers a glimpse of how tech companies will get us to treat them more like members of the family. Affectionate robots have the potential to comfort, teach and connect us to new experiences - as well as manipulate us in ways we’ve not quite encountered before.
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 lays 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 urination, which is comical.