AIBO, The Digital Wonder Dog

Sony Spends Millions On Robotic Canine

AIBO won't drink from the toilet; it doesn't have any fur and is not fast enough to chase even the most sluggish mail carrier. But it is a dog - of sorts.

The world's first robotic dog, AIBO is about the size of a Chihuahua and can walk, chase a ball, dance and bark.

Sony spent five years and millions of dollars developing AIBO, which means "partner" in Japanese, and in English is an acronym for "Artificial Intelligence Robot."

There are apparently a lot of people seeking such a partner: Despite a price tag of $2,500 each, the first 5,000 AIBOs put on the market sold out in four days. The 3,000 for sale in Japan sold out in 20 minutes.

Last month, 48 Hours Correspondent Peter Van Sant took AIBO for a walk in New York's Central Park.

In doing so, Van Sant was directly disregarding the advice posted on Sony's Web site, which states: "AIBO is designed as an indoor robot, so please don't take it outside. Contact with outdoor dirt or water may harm AIBO." But, after all, what kind of dog can't go outside?

On the walk, AIBO met some of his carbon-based relatives, who sniffed curiously around their slow-moving counterpart. But once he put his mind to it, AIBO could stroll fairly well.

"We didn't put fur on him because it kept getting caught in his joints," said Tod Freeman, who at the time worked for Sony, and came along for the walk.

Freeman demonstrated how AIBO can track a ball. It "sees" through his nose, where the camera is. Once he gets to the ball, he will line up and kick it. But only if he gets to it first.

While AIBO was ponderously progressing toward the bright pink ball, another dog, much quicker, darted in to take it. Only a watchful owner kept AIBO from being humiliated.

A crowd of New Yorkers gathered. They soon began making suggestions for improvements. "It would be great if he could have a face," one man said.

"It would be good if he could do chores around the house," said another bystander.

"I'd be more inclined to buy something that started coffee in the morning," suggested a third.

Many people were surprised to see that the silver metallic creature stored its removable computer processor in an odd place: its, er, hindquarters.

The crowd seemed to agree that while AIBO was pretty cool, it could never replace a living dog. But in some respects, AIBO can hold his own. Take him to a hydrant, and he'll lift his leg, just like any other mutt.

To find out about new robots that do minimal house chores, read Meet 'Cye,' A New Homebot.

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