If you've been waiting for the ultimate robotic pet and have $2,899 to spend, your wait is almost over. Sony just announced plans to sell a limited 'First Litter' edition of its new AIBO robot dog starting in September. The dog has an impressive array of sensors, along with significant artificial intelligence capability that can recognize each member of your family and learn from interactions.
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of ROM, the Aibo takes input from over a dozen sensors and uses 22 different actuators to provide realistic movements. A pair of OLED eyes helps it form a variety of expressions. It responds to voice commands, but you can also control it with the upcoming My Aibo app.
The robot dog uses a front-facing camera to perform facial recognition so it can develop different relationships with each person in the home. It also uses a SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping) system to make a realistic map of your home. You'll be able to tag locations so you can tell Aibo "go to the kitchen," and it will know where that room is located. You can also use the app to see what the dog sees, effectively turning it into a roving security camera.
If you're concerned about privacy, you might have some concerns about Aibo. The robot does some of its processing in the cloud, where it sends data about its interactions so it can use machine learning on the server-side to be more realistic. However, that means that information about your home and family members is being transmitted over the Internet. Sony didn't release details about what kind of data is shared or the security measures involved in the transmission.
If you want to take Aibo outside of Wi-Fi range, it can connect to the cloud via 4G LTE using AT&T's network. The dog comes with three years of cloud service, which presumably means that you'll have to pay extra after that point to keep using it. Sony did not immediately release details about whether the robot will work properly when disconnected from the cloud or how much it will cost to maintain your service plan.
I had a chance to see the new Aibo in action at Sony's press event. The dog definitely seems quite life-like, as it looked happy when my coworker scratched its chin and made a cute "who me?" face at me when I called it a "bad dog." The robo-dog spontaneously scratched itself and, according to Sony's demo people, can be disobedient at times, refusing to sit when you tell it to do so.
Sony didn't release battery life numbers, but the good news is that when Aibo is running out of juice, it will automatically walk over and plug into its charging station.
In addition to the robot itself, the Aibo First Litter Edition comes with "aibone," a pink ball, paw pads, the charging station and, of course, the three years of cloud service. It also comes with an individually numbered dog tag.
We don't know how many people want to spend nearly $3,000 for a robot pet, but Sony says that when it released this robot in Japan, it sold 20,000 units in the first seven months. If you love the idea of having an advanced robot in lieu of (or in addition to) a real dog, Aibo could be for you.