As you may have heard, the New York Times did a 6 part series called Robotica “examining how robots are poised to change the way we do business and conduct our daily lives.” Their last segment is called A Robotic Dog’s Mortality and focuses on Sony’s not defunct line of robot dogs Aibo. It’s a fascinating look at how human and robot interaction.
TOKYO — They didn’t shed, chew the sofa or bite the postman, but for thousands of people Sony’s Aibo robotic dog was the closest thing to a real canine companion. So when the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year, eight years after it ended production, owners faced a wrenching prospect: that their aging “pets” would break down for good.
Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, at a price of 250,000 yen (about $2,000 at current exchange rates). The beaglelike robots could move around, bark and perform simple tricks. Sony sold 150,000 units through 2006; the fifth and final generation was said to be able to express 60 emotional states.
Robot pets didn’t become the ubiquitous accessories that the Aibo’s developers had imagined, however, and the Aibo was never much more than a side project for Sony. The company was used to selling consumer products in the tens of millions, not the thousands. And by the mid-2000s Sony was losing money, its mainstay television business eroded by competition from cheaper South Korean rivals.
The Aibo fell victim to company restructuring, as Sony sought to refocus on more profitable businesses. Still, Sony continued to repair Aibos until March of last year. But by then spare parts were becoming too scarce, the company said, forcing it to end the service and turn owners away. —Jonathan Soble
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