The AIBO Entertainment Robot ERS-210 is Sony’s 2nd generation robotic dog. The first version (ERS-110) which was released in
June of 1999, sold for $2500 in limited quantities. This new version has been made readily available to the public at a much lower price of
$1500 and is available in Black, Gold or Silver.
AIBO in Japanese means “companion”. It is also an acronym for Artificial
Intelligence RoBOt. Almost everyone agrees that robots are cool. But can robots make good pets, or are they just interesting toys? I’ll admit that one day last week when I came home to see that my Pembroke Welsh Corgi Kasey had gotten into the bathroom trashcan and had shredded
Kleenexes all over the floor that the thoughts of a plastic dog seemed pretty inviting!
Like we sometimes do on The Gadgeteer, this is going to be a dual review by Judie and myself. We’re going to give you two viewpoints on the AIBO.
My viewpoint for this review is coming from a person that has had a real dog for almost 10 yrs and has never played with any type of robotic toy animal before.
Judie’s viewpoint will be from a person that has also has a real dog but has played with several of the less expensive robots on the market.
First of all let’s look at the AIBO hardware specs.
CPU 64-bit RISC processor
32MB main memory
CMOS image sensor
20 moveable joints
Infrared Distance Sensor
Pressure Sensors (Head, the Back, Chin & Legs)
Operating time: 1.5 hrs
Charging time: 2hrs with a supplied AC Power Adaptor and the "Lithium Ion Battery pack
I was pretty excited for the opportunity to review the AIBO. For one thing, it was the most expensive item that I’d reviewed to date. And for another reason, it just looked really cool!
It was first delivered to me at work (day job) and I refused to open the box for fear that my co-workers would want to play with it before me (yeah, I can be a little stingy). So, I waited all day till I could get home and take
it out of the box.
The first thing I noticed after taking the robot out of the box was that it
reminded me more of a cat than a dog. Its ears and face seem more cat shaped. I also noticed the size and weight. I expected it to be smaller.
The dimensions are (W/H/D) (not including ears and tail) Approx. 5.98 x 11.06 x 9.84
inches (152 x 281 x 250 mm). And the weight is (including a battery and a memory stick)
Approx. 3.3lb (1.5kg).
Next, I was disappointed to learn that I first had to charge the included Li-ion battery. A small LED on the AIBO’s chest glows orange while charging and then turns off when charged. Charging time was about 2hrs and was facilitated by plugging in a small plastic module into the chest of the AIBO and then plugging in the AC adapter. An optional docking charger station is available.
After the initial charge, I pressed the button the AIBO’s chest and waited for it to
‘wake up’. After a few seconds, its eyes lit up, its head started moving, its ears and tail started flicking
and blinking and musical tunes began playing. Boot up time took about 30
seconds. Once the AIBO was awake, it was ready for action.
At this point I was thinking “Ummmm, now what do I do with it?" Not being the type to ever read manuals (unless absolutely necessary), I started saying various commands that I use on my real dog. Commands like “come”, “sit”, and “beg” didn’t
yield any results. Then I tried “shake” and was pleasantly surprised when AIBO sat down, and extended one paw towards me.
I then broke down and found the manual for the AIBO-ware memory stick module that came with the review unit. All AIBOs must have an AIBO-ware
memory stick installed in order to function. There are several software packages
that allow AIBO to perform at different levels and to different situations.
AIBO Life: This software also lets you raise AIBO from toddler, to child, to
teen, on to adult.
AIBO Hello: This upgrades AIBO ERS-210 into a fully mature Entertainment Robot,
further boosting its energy and personality. Use to show what the AIBO can do. (Pack that was included with our review
Party Mascot: Plays games like "paper, scissors, rock"
Party Fun Pack: Used with the AIBO Life pack and a Windows computer, you can see
how much your AIBO has "matured"
AIBO Master Studio: AIBO Master Studio is a PC-based software package that will
allow users to customize their AIBO through an easy-to-use programming
interface. Users can create and edit original sound, motion and LED data, as
well as "scripts" that will control AIBO’s behavior.
The memory stick plugs into the ‘belly’ of the AIBO. See the pink module
plugged next to the battery in the picture below.
I found the manual to be pretty anemic. It only listed 4-5 words that the AIBO recognized. I knew that there were supposed to be at least 40 words / phrases so my next step was to look on the internet for more info. I was able to find the short list
(however not complete) below:
What is your name: Will say its name in its own language
Good boy/Good Girl
Don’t do that
Go for it
Say Hello: AIBO will greet you in its own language
Shake: AIBO will shake paws
How old are you? Will respond in its own language
Are you alright?/Hungry?
Most times the AIBO would understand the words on the list, but other times he would ignore me. Supposedly the robot has ‘free will’…. but, I think I’d like it better if
it always did what I asked of it. I’ve already got a real dog with free will and it’s not all it’s cracked up to
be let me tell ya. 🙂
When the AIBO does something that you like, you can either pet it on its head (there is a sensor there) or you can say Good Boy or Good Girl.
Conversely, if the dog does something that you don’t want it to do, you can thwap him on the head or say Bad Boy/Girl. Eventually AIBO will learn to do the good actions more than the bad ones.
One thing that I was surprised about was how noisy the AIBO was. Especially when walking around. The gears and motors
made grinding/whirling noises and its joints even squeaked a bit. I
kept calling it the Tin Man and wanted to get out the WD40.
Speaking of locomotion, the AIBO is pretty slow. Don’t expect it to run. It basically kind of hobbles around. Its motions are not very fluid. They are more….robot-like. That said, the AIBO can do some pretty interesting moves. One time I
accidentally knocked it over on its side while it was turned on. I thought it would be funny to see what it would do, so I just waited and was very surprised when
it got up on his own.
There are quite a few (I know I didn’t see all of them) moves that it can make. Just when you start to get bored with it, it will do a funny move to get you interested again. One move that it does that made me laugh
every time was what looked kind of like the Michael Jackson moonwalk.
You can see some QuickTime movies of the AIBO in action by visiting the AIBO
If you get bored with the AIBO, you can just let its do its own thing. It will wander around for awhile, or even play ball by itself. It comes with a pink plastic ball that it can recognize. If you put it a few feet in front of it, it will walk up to it and either hit it with
its paw or nose. I found that
its distance sensor wasn’t always that accurate as it would walk up the ball and extend its paw to hit it only to be too far away. Whenever this would happen, it would then get a little closer and try again.
One thing that tended to annoy me with the AIBO was the constant tunes that
it would play. It reminded me more of R2D2 from Star Wars than a dog. I never
once heard it bark and am not even sure that it can emit those types of noises.
Being a robot dog, I would rather that it made growling, whining and barking
noises instead of repetitive beeps, boops, and short tunes.
Although I found it fun to play with, it could never replace my real dog. Having the AIBO on your lap while watching TV just doesn’t feel the
same as a living, breathing animal. 🙂 Speaking of my dog, she didn’t like the AIBO at all. I think she was jealous. When I would play with
it, she’d try to take its ball or she would go to her own toy basket and start pulling things out as if to say
"So what, I have better stuff than that imposter!”
Personally, I found the AIBO to be an interesting toy (albeit a very expensive one!) that
demonstrates what we can expect
of other toys in the future. The Sony Entertainment Robot would make a great toy for someone that has lots of disposable cash and has an interest in robots.
More interactive than most toys
Doesn’t shed like a real dog
Short battery life
Well, Julie has given you most of the nuts and bolts information
about the AIBO, I’ll let you know how things went when it showed up at my
I’ll start with just a little bit of background: When I was growing up, a
high tech robot toy was one that could stumble forward for a few steps, and
perhaps show a looped "movie" on it’s lighted belly, while making
blasting noises. That’s about as good as it got – and that was rather exciting.
I’m thinking specifically of a robot that my brother got for Christmas in 1973
(the one that mysteriously disappeared into my possession).
Sarah, our 11-year old daughter, has had a fascination with the last decade’s
versions of little robot toys like the Poo-chi, Furby, and Tekno, but always from
the standpoint that they were just amusing toys. If you aren’t familiar with
these animated toys, you’re not missing much. They just basically do a trick or
two, make some sounds, and suck battery life – buy hey, for under $50, what do
you expect? She would play with them for a little bit, and then quickly
lose interest as the limitations of the toys became evident.
We like to watch just about every show on Animal Planet. We had already heard
of the AIBO, but had never seen one "live", until the Pet
Project episode that featured this guy that seemed to think that his AIBO
was a real dog. He took it everywhere and talked to it – we thought it was kind
of funny, and a little sad in a way. However, we also thought that it would be
very cool to one day actually get to see and play with a real robot dog,
which is what the AIBO was purported to be.
When I found out that Julie & I were going to have the opportunity to
play with and review an AIBO, which all of the little robot dogs had so
obviously been patterned after, I thought it would be a great time to find out
if Sony had really made a new form of "artificial intelligence",
or if this was just another toy robot dog, albeit a very expensive one.
The day that AIBO showed up, Sarah was at school, so I was able to charge him
up for a bit and then play with him myself. I thought it was charming to watch
how he "awakened" as he booted up. He actually stretched and then
yawned – as if coming out of a very deep sleep. Quickly flashing lights on his
tail and eyes showed that something was about to happen…
AIBO seemed a little inactive at first, but as I played with him, he quickly
began to get more and more excited and playful. It did seem odd at first that he
was whirring and beeping, along with playing snatches of little tunes – but I
quickly got used to it. I did find myself wishing that he would bark, though.
Lucky, our 6 month old Weimaraner, didn’t seem put off by AIBO in the least.
He showed minor interest, and then went back to sleep.
When Sarah got home, she fell completely under AIBO’s spell. I felt myself
getting a little peeved when I found her lying on the floor, talking to AIBO as
if he could understand her. I felt like she had never been that patient with
Lucky, and that she was being unfair and neglecting our flesh and blood dog.
She soon had AIBO playing "patty-cake" games, and following his
ball all over the floor. Every time he did something she liked, she would stroke
his head sensor, and call him a "good boy." AIBO would flash his eyes
in pleasure, and make his little sounds. Sarah taught him to respond to his
name, which we decided to leave as AIBO. Hopefully, we were pronouncing it
right, we said it as "Eye-Bow."
She wasn’t very happy with me when I made her put him up for the night…
Over the next couple of days, a few of Sarah’s friends were introduced to
AIBO, and their reactions ran from wonder at what he could do, to amazement at
his cost. If you think about it, while $1500 seems like a lot of money to most
adults, to a child it is an astronomical sum.
In the evenings we would unplug AIBO, and bring him out to play. He would
chase his ball, and walk around "looking" at things in my office.
Lucky couldn’t resist giving him a "kiss." AIBO seemed to take it all
in stride, with tail wagging and flashing.
In addition to the sensor on the top of his head, AIBO also had sensors under
his chin, on his back, and on the bottoms of his feet. Sarah would actually
flick his ear, the way Lucky likes her to, and AIBO would make happy sounds. It was starting to seem like
perhaps AIBO might have a mind of his own. He was programmed in such a way, that
it was almost as if he had feelings…
AIBO definitely seemed to have his own personality, once you learned his
unique sign language, and what his flashing eyes meant. When he was happy, his
eyes would light up with green and his tail would alternate colors rapidly – he
would also play goofy snatches of tunes. When he was bored, his tail would flash
at a much slower pace, and his eyes had a downcast red to them. He would mope
around and play this depressing tune – just in case you didn’t notice how upset
he was acting…
One of the cuter things that AIBO would do, is if he happened to fall over
while exploring, he would to pick himself back up – and would then shake his
head, like he was surprised and amazed that he had been so clumsy.
I took AIBO to see my friend Jon, a techie from way back. Jon said that the
AIBO seems to be on the right path to follow the three laws of Robotics, found in
Isaac Asimov’s book, I,
1. A robot may not injure a human or through inaction let a human come to
2. A robot must obey all orders given to it, unless the order conflicts with the
3. A robot must protect itself from harm unless this conflicts with the first
and second laws.
Jon and I agreed that as the AIBO evolves, perhaps in a future generations we
will see even more manifestations of these characteristics coming into play…
So, the end of my week with AIBO came last Friday. It almost didn’t seem
right to box him up like the electronics that he was, and take him to the FED EX station down the road. Sarah
asked if she could carry his box.
I realized on the way that this wasn’t going to be easy for Sarah – she
looked like she was about to cry. "Maybe we could buy him?" she asked.
"Baby, he’s $1500." I replied, shaking my head. "Well, if we ever
did buy him, would they send us this same one?"
I guess that AIBO actually did manage to get under her skin. Suddenly, I felt
a lot more sympathy for that guy on the Pet Project show.
Most entertaining and interactive toy I have ever encountered
Actually learns and responds from interaction with you
Ideal for someone that doesn’t want or can’t have the responsibility of a live
Won’t dig up your potted plants, eat your socks, or pee on your 100% mohair rugs
(Each of which Lucky has done at least once!)
Will fascinate your friends – even ones that are allergic to pets
Expensive (But then have you ever added up the cost of a
dog, its vet bills, training and food?)
Slightly clumsy and well…robotlike!
Won’t replace the experience of owning and loving a live pet, but it sure does