The New Aibo
Sony recently announced plans to re-enter the world of robotics with the creation of a new development team to help head its first project: a robotic pet dog.
As reported by Nikkei earlier this week, Sony's decision comes after a twelve year absence from the robotics industry following a series of setbacks that go back as far as the early 2000s. The unexpected growth of the internet, as well as 2008's global financial crisis, the massive 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan, and the selling of a "vehicle-like robot" (and its team) to Toyota in 2006, were all contributing factors.
Sony is now preparing to re-enter the market with a new robotics project similar to the Aibo robotic pet, which was popular several years ago. In fact, the team behind the new project is made up of several former Aibo engineers. The new robotic pet will move and act like a real dog — albeit one that can also control home appliances and respond to voice commands. Nikkei compares it to the Amazon Echo or the Google Home speaker, which come equipped with artificial intelligence and internet capabilities. It's currently unclear if this new robotic pet will have the same.
The operating system that will be at the center of the pet's functionality will also be open to developers who want to add new features. Plans are also underway to give it dog-like behavior, which could make it more popular among children.
From Industrial Robots to House Pets
Interestingly enough, a robot pet was not Sony's original plan to foray back into the market: Nikkei writes that, in June 2016, President and CEO Kazuo Hirai suggested the company focus on industrial robots or automation, instead of something "capable of forming an emotional bond with customers." In the relatively short time since, however, it's become increasingly more difficult to become a key player in the industrial robot marker. Breaking into the home market, on the other hand, is much more achievable.
"By combining its strength in mechanical engineering and AI, which has come a long way since Aibo, the company hopes to elevate its new robot business beyond that of merely controlling household electronics," explains Nikkei. "It will determine what technology should be pursued as it refines its robotic dog."