Sit! Roll over! Fetch my dry cleaning!
It's the year 2000, and the scene is Janet Jackson's
new video clip Doesn't Really Matter. “We're thinking the
future, with a stylish Japanese edge. We're thinking, flying camera-balls,
a fridge with a TV screen (crazy I know), a lot of makeup, and an
Aibo! Nothing says the future of Japan like flying balls!”
And thus Sony's robo-dog Aibo had its MTV debut.
At $2,500 a pup, they sold out a lot faster than one would have
imagined and apparently the demand was much higher. The new Aibo
ERS-7M2 is a grand cheaper and a much smarter dog/cat/thing.
Apparently the original Aibo was modelled after
a lion cub (in a suit of armour), though the newer one looks much
more doggy-styled, and is bilingual (Japanese and English) with
a capacity of 100 words or phrases. Gotta envy that! It's capable
of six emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, dislike, surprise, and
anger, and it has LED displays to show it. Blink-flash-blinky- blink
equals “Feed me!” or “Bite me!” depending
on the hue.
So why buy a robot dog? Are there romantic images
of short-circuiting on the beach together as you run into the
surf? Throwing tennis balls that ricochet off its chin sensors?
Carrying it while you jog? Dusting it? Oh, duh — they're cool.
Obviously there are other benefits. Your landlord
kick you out for having a pet that recharges itself. It's great
for allergy-prone pet lovers, unless you're allergic to artificial
intelligence — yes, quite a common affliction nowadays. This
pet can be programmed to suit your schedule, waking up when you
do and sleeping when you do. No more midnight cat attacks or whining
puppies at the bedroom door.
A more socially responsible role for Aibo and
synthetic pets is in making the elderly trendier. And health care.
A couple of years ago Purdue University and the University of Washington
saw the benefits of Aibo with shut-in and live-alone elderly individuals,
bringing the companionship of a furry pet without the muss and fuss.
Nancy Edwards, a Purdue professor said robo-pets could do much more.
“They will record their masters' blood
pressure, oxygen levels or heart rhythms,” she said. “Aibos
may even one day have games that can help stimulate older individuals'
minds” Hopefully not through random electric shocks.
Aibo isn't the only robot animal out there. Sanyo has a home safety
and security dragon (how cool!) named Banryu, a steal at $18,000.
With more than 50 built-in sensors, Banryu is
capable of picking up changes in its surroundings and transmitting
an alarm to its master's cell phone. A camera on its back can swivel
360 degrees and send images of the room around it. It can also sense
the smell of burning and detect temperatures above 50 degrees (just
above your average summer day in Japan). And! It can go shopp- ing
for you! Next up on the Sanyo production line is something that
looks like a jellyfish that comes with a free set of steak knives.
There are other robo-pets too. There's the Omron
Tama Robot Cat, meant for pet therapy purposes, not as a mass market
item. NEC's not-for-sale R100and PaPeRo, which keep most of their
brain in a PC (not creepy at all) and connect to it via a wireless
network interface. Also there are lots of cheaper (dirty, dirty
word) toy shop versions other than Tamagotchi. Furby makers Tiger
Electronics now also make the $30 Poo-Chi dog, the name alone is
bound to sell, sell, sell. Lego's also doing their bit with their
social commentary or robots to the rescue? We could sit around and
ponder this debate, hypothesising and deliberating, or just buy
one and become super popular. Or befriend someone who has one, and
become super popular by proxy. Or make your own with a stick of
gum and some chopsticks. Talk about warm and fuzzy.