Sony Banks On Robot Technology


Thursday, October 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


TOKYO (AP) — The new robot pet from Sony Corp. doesn't shed fur, eats only batteries and can even remember its master's birthday.

Sony's cat-size robot is a smarter version of the original AIBO, which was introduced in June 1999 and modeled after a pet dog. Aibo even means ``pal'' in Japanese. The new AIBO wiggles, waddles, blinks its light eyes and warbles in an electronic melody like the original version. But this one, modeled after a lion cub, recognizes its own name and 50 other words, imitates the tones of human voices and can be programmed through a personal computer.

While Sony wouldn't say how many of the new AIBO it planned to sell, it is banking on its robot technology, foreseeing a future when much of home electronics would be computerized like robots. The company, which also has music, movie and video-game businesses, hopes the AIBO will grow into a widely known character Sony can put in films, games and other products.

Sony said only that it could start breaking even if it starts selling at the maximum productive capacity of 60,000 a month. It will be available by order in Japan, the United States and Europe from mid-November for about $1,500 — down from $2,500 for the original AIBO. They will arrive at homes starting in early December.

Satoshi Amagai, president of Entertainment Robot Co., Sony's robot unit, compared the potential of Sony's robots with the Walkman — a product that only a few, even in Sony, expected to sell at first.

``Ten years from now, we want to become one of the pillars of Sony's business,'' Amagai said.

Masayuki Yonezawa, an analyst with BNP Paribas Securities in Tokyo, said AIBO has already proved a plus for Sony's corporate image, although whether it grows as a business remained to be seen.

``Its main impact is to show off Sony's technology,'' Yonezawa said. ``It's impressive how robots have become so close to the real thing.''

The machine doesn't have any obviously catlike mannerisms and struts around like a mechanical dog. It has a sensor beneath its chin so it acts happy by lighting up its green eyes when petted there.

It also doesn't have the long, wagging tail or the floppy ears of the old one, and instead has a stump for a tail and perky ears.

In a demonstration for reporters, AIBO rested its hips on the floor when told to ``sit,'' lifted a paw when ordered to ``shake,'' and shook its hips when someone said ``dance'' into its ear.

It has a camera in its nose so it doesn't bump into walls. The improved AIBO can take color photos using that camera and store it in its memory stick — but only if you ask, ``Take a photo.''

The new AIBO also has a calendar and clock feature so it can be programmed to remember important days like its master's birthday.

Some of the software is sold separately. Voice-recognition, available in both English and Japanese, costs $90.

———

On the Net:

Aibo home page: http://www.aibo.com