Sony’s cute — and super smart — robot dog is coming to the US
Sony wants to be known for more than just TVs, cameras and PlayStations.
The company announced on Thursday its popular robot dog Aibo is returning to the US in September for the first time since 2006.
The dog debuted in the 1990s in Japan, but excitement fizzled as cheaper robots entered the market.
Last year, the company debuted a smarter version with OLED eyes, facial recognition technology and the ability to develop a personality through artificial intelligence. It’s also packed with cameras and image sensors to detect and analyze sounds and images. Sony says Aibo’s main purpose right now is to be a companion robot.
The company has sold 20,000 robo-dogs in Japan since launching it seven months ago — a significant milestone for a glorified toy that cost ¥198,000 ($1,780). In the US, it’ll set you back $2,899.
But those numbers were in line with the initial hype. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, the company drew big crowds demonstrating Aibo’s abilities to shake its head, lie down and give high-fives. (Sony continuously adds new skills, like playing dead, over time, and Aibo can be taught tricks). The pup showed incredibly lifelike movements, too.
This was the first major update to Aibo in 18 years.
But the Aibo’s stint in the US is only temporary. Sony said it will only be available to purchase in the US for a limited time.
This latest roll out makes a grand statement that Sony is no longer a traditional electronics company with a big focus on sound and visuals — it’s also one that takes AI and robotics seriously.
“We don’t think about Sony as an innovator, but they’ve been doing a lot of this,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research.
A splashy return to the US with a hot product is part of a massive image overhaul.
“It’s partially a reflection of Sony saying, ‘Hey, we’re not just TVs and the old Walkman company. We have a whole set of [other] technology out there,'” O’Donnell said. “It’s also part of an effort to try and make people think differently about what Sony is and does.”
Cheryl Goodman, head of corporate communications at Sony North America, said Aibo is part of a broader investment in AI and robotics.
In April, the company partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to research and develop food preparation and delivery robots that could potentially handle fragile and irregularly shaped materials and work in small spaces. In addition, the Sony Innovation fund invests in startups working in a variety of industries, including robotics, drones and machine learning.
With Aibo’s US launch, maybe Sony itself is learning some new tricks.