Sony on Thursday announced it’s bringing its refreshed Aibo robot dog to the US.
The new gadget will use sophisticated cameras and sensors to map your house, so it can easily move around and go to its charging station on its own. It will also recognize up to 100 faces and remember interactions with people, allowing its artificial intelligence engine to develop a unique personality that changes over time, according to Sony.
‘No two Aibo companion robots are the same,’ Sony said Thursday.
But those features won’t come cheap: A bundle package for the robot dog will cost ,899, around the same price as some purebred puppies or two midrange MacBook Pro laptops. Presales start in September, with deliveries expected in time for the holidays. The new Aibo — sleeker than its boxy ancestor — will be on exhibit to the US public in one place only before it goes on sale: at Sony Square in Manhattan from Friday through Oct. 14.
Sony’s Aibo fits into a growing trend of nostalgia tech, with many companies breathing new life into decades-old devices. Their hope is to invite back old customers and generate new money from those discontinued products. Nintendo has been particularly successful at dusting off and repackaging its old intellectual property by creating mini versions of its former consoles, such as the NES Classic Edition. Nokia, too, has reintroduced its 3310 feature phone and once-popular banana phone, though both have resulted more in buzz than sales.
Following these retro-tech efforts, Sony brought back the Aibo in Japan this January, more than a decade after it stopped selling the robot dog in 2006. That Aibo met its demise during Sony’s leaner years, as the company pruned its less successful projects. The Aibo’s revival comes as Sony has been enjoying an upswing in its business, with profits rebounding thanks to strong PlayStation sales.
The original robot dog proved to have a small but surprisingly loyal fanbase. After Sony stopped maintenance services for the dogs in 2014, many Aibo owners spent hundreds of dollars on repairs to keep their dogs up and running.
While that group of Aibo boosters is sure to generate plenty of excitement for the new dog, Aibo remains a pricey robot companion that serves little practical function. The original dog, which first went on sale in 1999, sold for 00 to ,000, while the new dog is priced in Japan at around ,760. That steep price should keep the Aibo a niche product. Overall, 150,000 original Aibos were sold over the course of seven years.
Despite the high price, the new dog appears to be tapping into pent-up demand, with over 20,000 Aibos sold in Japan since January.
The original Aibo offered a way for Sony to showcase some of its latest technologies, including a proprietary operating system and advanced robotics. Over the years, the dogs became more sophisticated, able to take pictures using cameras behind its eyes, play music and speak 1,000 words.
The new dog serves a similar purpose. It includes 4,000 parts, 22 actuators, OLED-screen eyes, the same kinds of AI used for self-driving cars and sensors that allow it to move around. Using all these features, Aibo can more accurately mimic a real dog’s actions and learn new tricks when interacting with its owner, bark, detect words of praise and smiles, and respond to touch when someone pets it on its head, on its back and under its chin.
The 2018 Aibo will be able to use your home Wi-Fi or a wireless connection through AT&T. Sony also partnered with Amazon Web Services to power the dog’s cloud-based artificial intelligence functions. Using the Aibo app, you’ll be able to label the map the dog creates, give the dog voice commands or gain access to a video feed from the dog’s camera, so you could use it as a ‘watchdog.’
Sony is offering the new Aibo in the US under a First Litter Edition, a limited, all-in-one ,899 package that includes the autonomous dog, a three-year cloud plan, robot dog toys including a pink ball and ‘aibone,’ and an individually numbered commemorative dog tag.
The Aibo helped inspire the creation of many cheaper copycat robot pets, but the market for these companions remains small. Twelve years after Aibo was discontinued, one of the few popular devices that can be described as a home robot is iRobot’s Roomba, which is an automated vacuum cleaner, not a robo-buddy.
Amazon is rumored to be developing a home robot, but its functions are still unknown. SoftBank Robotics created a humanoid robot called Pepper, but it’s only available in Japan and is targeted for businesses and research. With robots’ high prices and limited functions, it appears a future that includes an Aibo in every home remains an unlikely one.
First published Aug. 23 at 7:13 a.m. PT.
Updated at 8:16 a.m. PT: Added details throughout.