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Sony to return to robotics after 12-year absence

Amit Katwala

The original Aibo was on sale from 1999 to 2006 (Credit: Sony)
The original Aibo was on sale from 1999 to 2006 (Credit: Sony)

Sony will relaunch its robotics business in 2018 with a dog-like robot designed for homes.

The company is reviving Aibo, a robotic pet dog that was launched in 1999 at a cost of $2000, but shelved in 2006 as part of cost-cutting measures. Despite its high price-tag, the Aibo proved popular – a recent New York Times video focussed on a community of owners now struggling to find replacement parts to keep their beloved pets alive.

The new model will incorporate internet connectivity and have the ability to control domestic appliances with voice commands, like the Amazon Echo or Google Home devices, but will also behave and move like a real dog.

Sony plans to run the new Aibo on an open operating system so third-party developers can add features, while the company says it’s also mapping out advanced electronics that will enable the robot to mimic canine behaviour.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, the move is part of Sony’s attempts to restructure and refocus its business, while taking advantage of its relative strength in mechanical engineering. It represents a strategic shift for the company. In 2016, its president and CEO Kazuo Hirai had suggested a potential move towards industrial robots.

Instead, this represents a revival of the home robot sector, which had a brief burst of popularity around the turn of the century with the likes of Honda’s Asimo and a trumpet-playing robot from Toyota.

Advances in voice recognition driven by artificial intelligence have revived interest in these robots, which are getting better at co-existing with humans, and could be used to provide assistance to the elderly, or perform tasks such as cooking and cleaning in the future.

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