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JULY 2005
Issue 062

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 can't
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.

And 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 Mindstorms system.

Sad 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.

Text: Jared Olthof

:: Online Articles


Travelling treats
Outdoor food


In a desert land
Namibia, Africa


Sit! Roll over! Fetch my dry-cleaning!
Robot pets


Passion and pain
Butoh — the alternative theater of Japan


Cut out for kendo
Alex Bennet, Kiwi kendo master

:: Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + listings


Best events + listings


Best gigs + listings


Parties not to miss + listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Puru Nima
Indian restaurant, Shinsaibashi


Purely Pure
Club Pure, Shinsaibashi


Music Festivals
Japan's hottest outdoor music festivals


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen


Nabbing the Nabisco Cup
J-leage: The Yamazaki Nabisco Cup


Domestic and international news