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Unconditional Love

Once hunters and protectors, today's dogs have been promoted to family members. here's how to choose, train and love a dog
Stacey C. Rivera
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 7)


Wouldn't it be great if you could occasionally shut your dog off? If you didn't have to walk him or dispose of his waste? If he neither shed nor required grooming? What if you could operate him by remote control?  

For on-again, off-again owners, AIBO, an entertainment robot introduced by Sony in 1999, may be the perfect pet.  

In Sony's words, AIBO (the first two letters stand for artificial intelligence, the last two contain part of the word robot) is "an autonomous robot that acts in response to external stimulation and its own judgment. It displays various emotional expressions and learns by communicating and interacting with human beings."

Because AIBO is made for interaction with humans, it was given the familiar, lovable, four-legged shape of a dog and can even wag its robotic tail (though it sports no fur). So popular was the concept that when Sony first began manufacturing AIBO, all 5,000 units sold within 20 minutes in Japan and within four days in the United States. Sony made 10,000 more robots and received an overwhelming 135,000 orders for those "pups." Sony promised to fill every order received during an 11-day ordering period in February 2000. The date for the next edition has yet to be decided.  

While AIBO won't fetch the newspaper or chase away rodents, it acts remarkably like a real dog. Eighteen motors power its 6 1/4"x 10 1/2" x 10 7/8" frame, allowing it to walk on its four legs, sit, stretch, pop up after falling over, and belly-crawl. Programming variables give it the ability to "learn" other movements. A sensor on its head and a pair of stereo microphones installed on its ears make it respond to touch and speech.  

AIBO is programmed to have what Sony calls six "emotional states"--joy, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and discontent--and four "instincts"-- love, search, movement and recharge. According to Sony, "Through the environment in which it is raised and the people with whom it communicates, AIBO can feel and learn.... AIBO will gradually grow into its own unique personality."  

AIBO communicates with its human master by using a language of musical tones and melodies as well as body language and eye lights. The robot pup will ask you to play ball with it by making the shape of a ball with its paws and trying to get your attention, or when it is in a "bad mood," it may ignore your commands and presence altogether.  

AIBO has three modes: autonomous, performance and game. In autonomous mode, AIBO will interact with humans and rely on its emotions and instincts the way a real dog would. In performance mode, it will act out preprogrammed behavior patterns. In game mode, it can respond to remote-control commands such as forward and backward as well as more sophisticated commands such as "kick the ball" or "hold it in your mouth." (AIBO likes to play soccer while in game mode.) Owners can purchase an additional AIBO Performer Kit motion editor, which allows users to edit and create original movements on their home PC.  

AIBO sells for $2,500 and comes in silver gray or metallic black. You get a pup with a 64-bit RISC processor, 16 MB of internal memory and 8MB programmable memory |in the form of a memory stick. The unit weighs only 3 pounds, 8 ounces, including its battery, and will never pee on the carpet. --SR    

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