If you have been on this planet for some time, you’ve surely heard of Aibo, Sony’s robot puppy. The kids loved it because it was a cool puppy, but the parents loved it even more—a pet that runs on batteries, leaves no mess behind, doesn’t hate the postman, doesn’t get stressed over fireworks, and most importantly, won’t chew on the furniture. Win-win! But engineers, on the other hand, didn’t look at the robotic puppy with as much fondness as the consumers. Why is it important, and why is it worth spending their time on?
The previous models of the Aibo debuted between 1999 and 2006, and then Sony stopped their production and decided to focus on other things and prioritize TVs over puppies. However, Aibo is making a comeback, and it is better than it has ever been—even for engineers.
What Has Changed?
The short answer: everything!
Sony announced the comeback of Aibo in November 2017. That’s 11 years down the line. And let’s be honest. In the last 11 years, technology moved forward a lot, especially in the fields of AI and robotics.
In one way, the new Aibo is the same as its predecessors. It’s still a robot dog. However, it is one sophisticated robot dog, and it’s a symbol of things to come in the electronics field.
Aibo’s Key Features
The new Aibo is a small and adorable puppy, and it will always stay a small and adorable puppy. It will not outgrow you and eventually take up the entire sofa! Its dimensions are 180 by 293 by 305 mm, and it weighs 2.2 kg. So, if you want to put it in your bag like a little chihuahua and go to the supermarket, you can easily do that.
The robotic body has ultracompact 1- and 2-axis actuators, giving the puppy more natural movement. It has a total of 22 axes: three on the head, one on the mouth, loin, and neck, three on each leg, two on the tail, and one on each ear. Aibo can stretch, wag its tail, and raise its paw. It is an autonomous robot, meaning that it can wander around on its own. It also uses its computing power to calculate the shortest distance to its target location.
Sony gave the new Aibo OLED eyes, as opposed to the 24-LED eyes used on previous models, enabling the robot puppy’s face to be more expressive. Remember when you had a real puppy and you thought, “Man, I wish its eyes were green instead of brown”? No? Me neither, but in case you did, you can easily change the colour of Aibo’s eyes by using the dedicated mobile app. And there’s more to the eyes of Aibo—no, they are not the windows to its soul. They are actually fish-eye cameras with simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) technology.
Aibo is packed with different sensors over its body that enable it to navigate its the surroundings, all of which are supported by a 64-bit quad core CPU processor. It has a ToF sensor, two PSD sensors, a pressure sensitive sensor located above its tail, six axis sensors for acceleration, two motion sensors and a light sensor, and, of course, capacitive type touch sensors on the head, jaw, and back so it can react to your physical affection.
All of this is to say that Aibo is making use of sophisticated components, visual systems and more, many of which are being applied to grander prototypes.
Aibo’s Artificial Intelligence
The most impressive feature of Aibo is the way AI and deep learning are incorporated. The new puppy can form emotional bonds with people based on the same grounds as real dogs would. If you hardly ever give it a praise or pet it, it will not be around you that much, but if you play fetch with it and give it love and cuddles, it will probably follow you to the toilet.
Thanks to the deep learning technology, the puppy is actually able to analyze sounds, words, and affection from its owners. Aibo will be able to learn what makes its owners happy, form its personality over time, and act accordingly to the given context.
All of this is enabled by four microphones that Aibo uses to take in and process the voice commands from its owners, and it has a speaker to deliver its cute woofs. Speaking of commands, Aibo comes with pre-learned commands that the puppy can respond to right after its unboxing. The best part is that Aibo also responds when you tell it to go and charge itself. It will make its way to the charging station, which looks like a mat. Additionally, if Aibo is running low on battery it knows that it is time to have a power nap on its charging mat.
Aibo is not only cool, but it is also smart. Its system is cloud computing enabled, meaning that it can access updates for its software automatically. Who knew dogs could use the Internet, eh? If permitted by the owners, Aibo can store data on the cloud and can exchange its learnt behaviour with other Aibo models.
Sony equipped the Aibo with some basic likes and dislikes that have been pre-programmed. It likes the colour pink, hence why it comes with a pink ball to play with, and it dislikes heights and tight spaces.
Having a robot dog seems like a trivial thing. But people love it despite that! And there is more to it. If you compare this current model to the 2006 model, the new Aibo is simply mind-blowing. Over a decade of technological advancements contribute to its newest form.
Sure, it is not the most groundbreaking or necessary thing. But still, it tells a story of a journey in robotic engineering and artificial intelligence, a story that details where we started and where we’ve come. If the engineering geniuses of this world can create a puppy like Aibo, imagine where we will be in a few years’ time. If we’re developing new improvements for Aibo, just imagine where those improvements could be applied across the board for robotics.
In the end, the interest that the world is showing for a robot puppy is breathtaking. It seems like society that is ready to embrace the future.
Featured image courtesy of DIY Toy Repair Shed.